Who Are They Fooling?

When, in one of my first posts, I commented on DRM in general, and Sony’s XCP disaster in particular, I also wrote this about DVD region codes:

[W]hy can’t I play a DVD I honestly bought in the US on my DVD player here in Europe? Oh, wait, I can: I just need to buy another DVD player with the US region code. Or find new region-code-less firmware for my computer’s DVD drive.

Although I had heard earlier that it was also possible to change the region code for stand-alone DVD players, I only found out just how easy this is when a friend pointed me to the right resources on the Internet (thanks, Mona!). For the specific model I have, removing the region code restriction requires these steps (in contrast to Apple’s classic “Three easy steps to the Internet” TV ad, there is a third step in this case…):

  1. Open disc drawer
  2. Press “0”, “0”, “0”, “0”, “X” on the remote (for X, press the desired region code, or “0” for region-less)
  3. Close disc drawer

Even now that I write this I am still stumped by just how easy this is. Much more so, since there are similar instructions for literally hundreds of models of DVD players, and most of them are just as straight-forward.

Regardless of what the original intentions for the use of a region code may have been — satisfy regional copyright ownership regulations, prevent movies from reaching a geographical region before they’re being shown in cinemas, etc. — what is the point of such a system if it is circumvented this easily?

The development and the implementation of region-code support in basically every DVD player and DVD drive must have cost millions. An investment by the entertainment industry that was anything but well spent, and I don’t simply mean the direct investment in the technology. The more I learn about Digital Rights Management, the more I get the idea that what the media giants are after are arbitrary limitations to their products’ fair use by honest customers.

Indeed, who are they fooling if high-tech approaches like Sony’s Windows-only XCP copy protection scheme or the DVD region code system are vulnerable not just because of “malicious” hacks by “criminal” programmers, but due to flaws built into the scheme, or put in place on purpose by the very companies who sell digital media devices.

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