On Ultraviolet and Further Adventures With DRM

This isn’t what I originally intended to write this week, but goings on on Sunday changed my mind a bit, and people who follow me on Twitter may guess where this is heading. Anyway, if you cast your mind and browser back, dear hypothetical audience, you’ll remember I’ve spoken about the problems Digital Rights Management software and their effect on consumers in the past. Well, I’ve now experience their icy grasp in a medium other than video gaming. Recently I decided to wake up and join the mid-2010s and finally start buying BluRays. Progress and all that. Anyway, thanks to this I’ve come across the “Ultraviolet” scheme where in addition to the physical media you just bought, you get an additional download copy to play on mobile devices, computers &c. In theory anyway. This is, if you ask me, a brilliant idea on paper. The actual execution? Whhhoooo boy is that a whole different story.

I decided to test out the service with two different films, The Lego Movie and Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem if you interested, since they were the only ones I owned with a Ultraviolet flyer included. Straight off the bat I noticed that since both films were from different distributors they directed me to totally separate websites, which initially suggested the service was not as centralised as the common branding suggested. This turns out to not entirely the case, but I’ll get back to that. While a bit miffed at this, I decided to press on and try Sony Picture’s version first for The Zero Theorem. I was greeted, predictably, with a sign up page. Fine, I thought, and filled it in. Rather ominously it asked for my postcode, which struck me as odd given how no money was changing hands (I already owned the film, after all). After making sure all the “Spam Me” boxes were untucked, as y’do, and clicked the go button. I was greeted with the standard “But Thou Must Agree To T&Cs” box, but hadn’t seen any to agree to. When I checked back I discovered this:

Up With This I Shall Not Put!

Apparently consenting to being spammed is equal to agreeing with Terms & Conditions in Sony Land

Yes, you’ve read that correctly, Sony Pictures has merged a “Spam Me” box with the “Agree to T&Cs” in a staggering display of disregard for the consumer. I honestly couldn’t believe it when I saw that, I’m used to corporations doing stupid things in the name of a quick buck, but making you consciously have to choose spam to join a service is absurd! Needless to say, I was not impressed and decided not to have any further engagements with their dubious service. After a brief spleen venting over twitter I picked up the leaflet for The Lego Movie and tried Warner Bros’ version of the service. This directed me to Flixster, a site I have since learned has something of a bad reputation from way back. In my defence I was unaware of this until after. But almost instantly it one-upped Sony by first not asking for my details beyond email address and then not combining terms and conditions with spam. A phenomenal start by comparison.

After getting The Lego Movie added to my rather vaguely defined Library I decided to try and search for the other film. Lo and behold it was there, and added itself quite easily. I was quite impressed with it all until it came to try and download the damn things. I was greeted with a dialogue box stating “You don’t have the right app for this, do you want to go to the app store?” because, you guessed it, Flixster requires a proprietary app to play anything off of, standard file formats be damned. Also when checking the OS X App Store, nothing of the sort is on there so fuck knows what it trying to suggest, unless it was removed by Apple for whatever reason. Ready to admit defeat, I tried googling the service itself and found the Ultraviolet main page. Here it actually outlined how it worked, and how it connected to any number of proprietary services (each with their own app) in a horrifically convoluted mess of streaming services rather than, as advertised, a straight download for your devices. This was when I gave up on the endeavour entirely. No Lego Comedy Romp or Gilliam Existentialist Weirdness for me on my tablet-and-other-devices, then.

Like I said in my opening paragraph, the concept behind Ultraviolet is indeed a good one, combining physical releases and digital ones makes a whole lot of sense to me as you get the actual sense of owning something from the physical, and the convenience and portability of the digital. The sheer number of hoops you have to jump through to use Ultraviolet’s system shows that someone somewhere thought the idea was useful, but then the meat grinder of corporate goings on happened we ended up with something far from the original concept. Would it really kill them to just offer it as a straight download we could just jam on anything? Probably not, but I get why they don’t. Somehow it’s clearly seen that being able to freely have media without any sort of inhibition as to it’s use is a threat to profits and therefore piracy. Then they slap down the DRM and woe betide anyone who actually wants to use the system freely. In the time it took me to work my way through, and then give up on, the whole circus they wanted me to do I could have easily located a pirated torrent and started to download a copy I could do with how I pleased. It’s frankly absurd that copyright violation is now easier than doing the legal route.

That’s really the whole issue right there. In a vague effort to try to crack down on the few who actually do go and pirate a product they’ve managed to harm the consumer once again. This is a similar trend to whats been going on in the video games industry, the reckless pursuit of solidifying a companies profits at any cost has meant that overall customer experience suffers yet again. Any sane individual could have pointed out how bad this was, and indeed I’m surprised it hasn’t attracted more criticism from consumers. The only provable way this sort of thing can be stopped, as demonstrated with the beat down Microsoft received over the Xbox One, is by voting with our wallets. The only reason companies keep treating us like this is because we keep effectively giving our consent to it by buying into it. I feel like a broken record when saying this, but until people wise up and actually go through with it I’ll keep repeating it!

The media industries in general shows massive contempt for it’s consumers, and I can’t imagine this will be sustainable for any longer. We’re already starting to erode the traditional companies grasp here on these intertubes, which is forcing them to try and adapt. This a good sign, but clearly the traditional mindset still prevails and we get exposed to all kinds of silly buggers. Maybe if we keep prodding, keep doing their job better than them they’ll actually start working in our favour rather than their profits’. It’s a worthwhile dream, I think you’ll agree.
Until Next Time, folks,
—Ndro
—Keeps seeing that same old cycle.
—Oh, and: Bah Humbug Day Minus 32.

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