Digital Rights Management Makes It Awfully Tempting To Commit Digital Wrongs

Digital Rights Management Makes It Awfully Tempting To Commit Digital Wrongs

In theory, digital rights management (DRM) is meant to protect the copyright holder’s interests while not inconveniencing the customer. Why, then, is DRM so often badly handled?

A little while back, I picked up a copy of Ice Age: The Meltdown on DVD for my kids to watch. It’s not the most stunningly fresh movie to be sure, but it was suitably cheap. I noted as I bought it that the packaging “Includes DVD+Digital Copy”. Excellent, I thought; something else to throw onto the kid’s iPad the next time I do a long road trip.

Except it’s not quite that simple; in this case the studio (Fox) uses its own proprietary app, the rather optimistically labelled “Plays Everywhere”, for movie download and watching, rather than through iTunes. It’s not a new intiative, but the back of the packaging does promise “simple and fast transfer to your portable device”.

To be fair, the app itself downloaded quickly, and lists a stunning total of five movies on the service; Chronicle, Ice Age, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, Ice Age: The Meltdown and This Means War. Something tells me that Fox doesn’t care about this particular initiative all that much, but I ploughed on, noting as I went that the terms and conditions — which you’ve got to agree to before you download — include the right for Fox to summarily discontinue access to the copy at any time without warning — but that wasn’t really an issue.

Despite having a genuine copy, the app itself actually refuses to validate the code within the box. Searching online reveals that yes, this isn’t a new issue, and indeed I’m far from the first to get stung by it. Technically, it would be grounds for a refund under Australian consumer law, although that would be an interesting argument; I’m not sure how many store managers would honour the faulty nature of the digital copy as grounds for a refund, although I’d be technically entitled to do so.

Plays Everywhere isn’t new, but I’m struggling to come up with a DRM model that’s less consumer-friendly than this is; not only does it use its own application for movie download and presumably playback — I don’t know, because it doesn’t work — but it’s one that could be yanked away from you at any time without warning.

Now, I’m well aware that there’s also a DVD within the box, but unless it has no copy protection on board, which seems unlikely given the lengths to which Fox has gone to annoy its customers with the digital copy, Australian law doesn’t give me the right to rip it, even though the reality is that it’d be astonishingly trivial from a technical point of view to do so.

Or in other words, in an effort to digitally protect its own rights, Fox have made it considerably easier and more tempting for consumers to explicitly ignore them in the name of any form of convenience.


  • If the box indicates a digital copy is included, the consumer is protected against that. They can’t just waive the consumer rights saying they have the right to withdraw at any time.

    • unfortunately, they probably get around it by hosting the validation servers in the US.

      These companies know that customers in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia have far more consumer rights than any citizen of the US could ever dream of having, while some try to make people in those countries sign away these rights (even though many of those same laws protect the consumer from having to do that), bigger companies with major investment in the country in question know that they are at greater risk of major fines from government entities, so they would almost certainly make sure that anything potentialy infringing does not technically occur in the country where the action would be infringing.

  • I had a very similar experience with Ice Age. It would flat out refuse to accept the code on my iPod. I then tried it out on my Android, and it worked without issue (although the app is a bit annoying).

    I ended up contemplating ripping the DVD to my laptop and sending it to the iPod that way, because it was a quicker and easier method than mucking around trying to get my code to work.

    Compared to the other digital copies I had lying around at home (which I recently transferred to iTunes without a hitch, despite the fact that they expired over a year ago), this was just too much grief.

  • Fox and all the other movie studios are forgetting a simple fact of life.

    If it can be seen and heard by a human, it can be reproduced.

    When are they going to realise that the millions they pour into DRM makes no difference to the availability of pirated copies of their films?

    Just stop with the DRM – if music can sell DRM free copies of titles and have sales actually increase, then why can’t the film studios. I’d be happy to log on to and pay via paypal for an HD copy of the film in MP4 that can indeed be played anywhere.

    If tech shows can now podcast in High Definition Video, come to think of it so does Aljazeera TV on a daily basis, then why can’t film studios sell copies of the films that will play on anything.

    My guess is they won’t bother until either a) they are foced by the death of physical distribution for media; or b) all the current executives in film studios retire and people who actually live in the 21st century come in.

    • Hell yes. I would have no problem paying a reasonable price for a high quality digitally-distributed copy. The key for me is price – any HD content you can download through services like iTunes is inferior to the BRD, usually doesn’t include extra features or commentary and takes up at least a couple of GB out of your quota. All of this, and it costs substantially more than the equivalent BRD at JB HiFi.

  • I have amused myself several times with several studio’s ‘Play Anywhere’ type options. Out of 4 attempted none yes NONE have worked on my standard Windows 7 PC install.

    Who has even tried ? Has anyone had any success at using these ‘Play Anywhere’ apps ?

  • I hope you’re not frustrated about the code not working anymore. Reality now is that Fox Plays Everywhere is the worst of the digital copy services I’ve tried so far, it’s only good if it has the iTunes copy because the DRM protected Windows choice is surely the poorest. I still have 3 digital unredeemed copies with this Plays Everywhere because of that, the service lames compared to Vudu, Flixster and iTunes. I even prefer to rip my blurays/dvds than the Fox alternative for god’s sake. So bro, is not worth it.

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