Video, Media and Ownership

I remember when it was the norm that every household had just one DVD player and typically one VHS tape player. The advantages of this meant anybody could purchase one copy of a film or TV Series and enjoy it on their one (and only) consumption device.
This all changed with the failing cost of DVD players, meaning you could easily afford one in every room, and even units built into TVs. Still, if you wanted to enjoy the latest Toy Story instalment you could do so in the Living Room, Bedroom or Kitchen, all with that same disc set you bought once from Woolworths.
In the last 3 to 4 years this has changed again. With the advent of faster, lighter computers (such as the MacBook Air) making viewing a film on a laptop actually possible, along with the relentless march of the tablet device (namely the iPad and iPhone), people now want to watch that same film or TV series on a number of different devices, all without repurchasing the same product multiple times.

Is media owned, or licensed?

This has lead to an important question. When I buy a CD or a DVD in a shop, do I own a copy of that media, or have I just purchased a license to play it using one method?
Technically speaking, by buying a CD and ripping this into iTunes (say, to add to your newly purchased iPad HD) you are breaking the copyright law by circumnavigating the DRM protection. The major record companies haven’t raised any objections to this purely due to the large sales of Apple’s iPod devices and the spill over revenue this generates for the music industry.
Take the same scenario for a film DVD. I walk into HMV and buy a copy of Iron Man 2 on DVD. I take this home and enjoy viewing the film in the living room with the family. I then leave for a business trip and I want to watch it again, but this time on my iPad. I would be left with two choices:

  • Purchase the film again from iTunes and pay twice for media I legally already own.
  • Rip the film from the DVD, convert into an iPad friendly format and add to iTunes (again, technically illegal and something film studios are much more against).

In the above scenario I legally and legitimately have purchased the film but I have to treat it as a license to view in only one method.
This gets even more complex if I want to view the same film on an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and / or a Plex Media server, as this would involve a number of re-converting of the ripped DVD for each device, and again carrying out technically illegal steps to do so.

A solution?

Launched in October 2011, a possible solution is UltraViolet. This started as a collaboration between a number of large tech companies (excluding Apple and Disney!) providing a registration-based media owning solution.
Effectively you would go to a shop, buy a DVD showing the UltraViolet compatible sticker and you are provided a license code. Enter this code into the website and you will be able to stream the movie on any compatible device, including downloading a copy for offline viewing.
Unfortunately the service is clouded with problems and broken promises, resulting in a social media backlash:
“Among thousands of posts about UltraViolet on social-media sites in the weeks following the Oct. 11 launch, only 3 percent of comments were positive, according to Fizziology, a company that tracks buzz related to Hollywood movie releases. Some 17 percent were negative and the rest were neutral. That’s on par with the worst product receptions the firm has ever seen.” – Business Week.


So what’s the solution? I’m sorry to say there isn’t one, at least not a 100% perfect one. You have 3 options:

  1.  Carry on as it is. That means purchasing physical media once and a second (or even third) time for each device you require.
  2. Use the questionable legal means. [ Neither Amsys or Myself condone or recommend this action ] Rip the physical media and convert to each format you require.
  3. Trial the UltraViolet option. Although this has had mostly bad press, there does seem to be a number of users with good things to say.

And my opinion? I want a reliable service costing £5 to £10 per film, which I can download the movie in a generic, DRM-free format that I can use on all my devices, legally. I can hope…..can’t I?