No, you may not display your child's ultrasound DVD here!

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My family and I recently returned from a wedding in the Caribbean. I could fill this blog with photos and pages of descriptions of steep green hills, dark starry nights, intense blue skies, green waters, awesome coral life in knee-deep water just offshore, friendly people and good food. My only disappointment in the entire trip is barely worth mentioning but I will mention it here because it indicates that consumers may not have the right to view content which they own and create.

During a rare moment when we weren't involved in wedding, sailing, swimming or snorkeling activities, we decided to show a DVD of an ultrasound to some close relatives who were nurses and who were also at the wedding. The G.E. 3D/4D ultrasound scan our Irish midwife used isn't yet available many parts of the world and usually isn't covered under U.S. health insurance. The ultrasound was recorded onto what appeared to be an ordinary commercial home DVD recorder and played well on our DVD player in Ireland and my parent's DVD player in the U.S. So I was surprised, mystified and slightly irritated when I popped the homespun DVD of our next child into the Sony DVD player in our hotel only to see a "Media is not playable in this region" error message appear on the screen. This was the first time I had been prevented from viewing content which I owned and which was not covered by any copyright and suggested that home videos I recorded on my own DVD recorder might also fail to play in some regions.

I can almost understand the MPAA and DVD forum's assertions that region codes limit copying in foreign markets, allow more control over regional release schedules and pricing but I've always suspected that there are other reasons why region codes are imposed on consumers. One obvious motive is that region codes restrict competition from studios in other regions. Another is that region codes allow film content to be edited to cater to regional tastes and prejudices. This blogger makes some interesting points suggesting racial motives for DVD region Gerrymandering. Why are the Caribbean, South America and South Pacific lumped into one region while Japan, Egypt and South Africa shares a region with Europe? What do Haiti, Australia, Peru, Indonesia and Brazil have in common? Average GDP? Language? Religion? Form of Government? No, they share DVD region 4. Why does my ultrasound DVD play fine in the U.S. (region 1) and Europe (region 2) but not the Caribbean (region 4)? I really doubt there is a significant baby ultrasound DVD piracy problem in the Caribbean. Imagine the smoke-filled board room where these decisions were made, probably out of ignorance rather than malice. The fact that various PAL, NTSC, SECAM video standards exist was an unfortunate accident. The arrangement of these standards across the globe has little to do with the intentional DVD region segregation and more to do with the history of colonization and regional trade.

I was an early videophile and once owned a large Betamax, VHS and LaserDisc video collection but I'm reluctant to collect many DVDs which might not play on my next DVD player. I wonder if many other consumers restrict their legally owned DVD collection because region codes would render this collection unviewable should the owner relocate? The fact that home DVD recorders such as the one on the midwife's ultrasound machine arbitrarily decide where personally recorded content can be played convinced me that backing up camcorder videos to DVD recorders might not be a good idea. Are DVD camcorders also region encoded?

I hope Hollywood studios (Disney included) will eventually recognize that it is a small world[1] and that consumers move between regions and should be allowed to view content from different regions. I've seen some excellent movies and children's videos which were never released in U.S. region 1 and I have a friend who improved his English language skills by watching Shrek and other movies which might not have been available in region 5 (most of Africa, India, Kyrgyzstan.)

Region codes put too much power in the hands of a small cartel of motion picture studios and could prevent consumers from sharing content which they created. Unfortunately, it appears that HD DVD and Blue Ray are continuing the misguided tradition of region codes. This is enough to make me consider letting this next video fad pass by without my participation. It's now technically possible to use GPS technology to further balkanize viewership by zip code or neighborhood. Is there any reason to believe that those who made bad decisions regarding region codes might not eventually make use of this technology?

Apple's Steve Jobs made news recently by suggesting that DRM should be removed from music, but he said nothing about DRM in video content. I'd like to see a list of studios publishing content as region 0 DVDs, ogg-theora or other truly free and open video standards. Until then I'd suggest that there are plenty of other things to do in the Caribbean, so don't bother bringing your Region 1 "It's a small world of fun" DVD.

[1] Walt Disney's "It's a small world of fun" DVD appears to be available in regions 1,2 and 3 but if you live in the Caribbean, Australia, central Africa, Russia or China, you may be out of luck.
Comments:

Brian, "Expect CHINA to influence and/or determine future GLOBAL standards as they manufacture the hardware employed." Industry consortium(s) require a per piece 'tax'. An important lesson should be learned when their representatives departed LAN (wireless) licensing - standard ratification talks. As my friend 'Merlin' informed me, 'If communication is via 'thin air' it cannot be made secure.' Mr. Joy concurred (Direct PtoP via FO medium) with that statement!

Posted by William R. Walling on May 17, 2007 at 12:50 PM GMT+00:00 #

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