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Are DVDs Software Or Films? 387

Posted by timothy
from the dvds-are-plastic-and-metal-discs dept.
NewsWatcher writes: "In Australia a court case with international ramifications will decide if DVDs are software or films. If they are designated as software, rental prices will go through the roof, if they are films their distribution cannot be limited under copyright laws. This article explains the ins and outs ." Unrelated incident -- FatRatBastard writes: "C|Net News is reporting that the new Warner Bros Powerpuff Girls DVD is infected with the FunLove virus. Note this only effects those who install the supplemental Windows software that comes on the DVD. The article claims that "The virus only affects PCs that load the disc, not DVD players" so I'm not sure if the DVD auto installs software if loaded on a Win PC, or if infection only happens if the user chooses to install the supplemental software."
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Are DVDs Software Or Films?

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  • by Alrocket (191107) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:30PM (#2508079) Homepage
    I'm wondering what the wholesale vs retail prices are for videos, is the gap as wide?

    From article:

    Warner simultaneously releases DVDs to the retail and rental market. They are color coded - silver for retail at
    a wholesale price of $24, and blue for rental, wholesaling at $55.

    When Warner threatened to sue video shops caught renting the retail-designated DVD, the association -
    representing 55 per cent of Australian video shops - took the offensive. It argues that under the Copyright Act,
    Warner cannot restrict the rental of DVD movies.
  • ROFLMAO (Score:1, Insightful)

    by blazin (119416) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:35PM (#2508114) Homepage Journal
    the new Warner Bros Powerpuff Girls DVD is infected with the FunLove virus.

    Alright, who doesn't agree that this has got to be the funniest /. story EVER.
  • Win-Win situation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:38PM (#2508139)
    Scenario 1: it's considered software, and rental prices go through the roof. The MPAA would freak if this happened.. people would pirate movies more than ever if this happened. MPAA gets screwed.

    Scenario 2: it's considered a movie, and they are forced to remove Region Encoding... this allows a huge class-action lawsuit involving anyone who's ever bought a region restricted DVD (read everyone in the world). MPAA gets screwed.
  • by glassware (195317) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:40PM (#2508155) Homepage Journal
    I'm sure I'm not the first person to wonder about it, but DVDs have been getting increasingly software-like in their admonishments to users.

    It used to be that a few seconds at the front of every videotape said "Copying is prohibited, etc, etc," and you'd just fast forward through it. Nowadays all my DVDs have thirty second clips of FBI warnings, and they include codes that prevent my DVD player from fast forwarding. The DVD, literally, takes precedence over what I click on my remote control.

    Although we all understand the UCITA has turned into a frightful mess, it seems like there does need to be a standard set of laws for software and content. When I buy a CD, most of the time I know what I'm getting and I know how to use it. When I buy a DVD, I don't know if they've somehow inserted idiotic menus and ads that I will be forced to watch.

  • by steddyj (449015) <<moc.nacliam.jyddets> <ta> <todhsals>> on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:41PM (#2508168) Journal
    Is there something that I'm not understanding here?

    If the DVD contains a Movie stored in a digital format, created for the primary purpose of viewing said movie, it is a FILM. NOTE: Primary purpose means that it it also includes with the movie some software such as screensavers themed to the movie, but is marketed as a video, its primary purpose is to view the movie.

    If the DVD was create to store data which will install applications onto a computer or simalar device, its SOFTWARE.

    Why is this so hard to understand???

  • by Merk (25521) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:42PM (#2508175) Homepage

    Of course we know that. The problem is that "the Law" is not a place for "things that make sense". Consider writeable CDs. Some are dirt cheap, $1 each or so. Others are $10 or more. The difference, a few bits on the CD itself? The $10 kind are the only kind that work in consumer electronics and are designed for copying music. This makes two CDs that are physically essentially identical into two different products that are taxed and priced differently.

    The problem is what to do about mixed media. A DVD that contains "pc-friendly" (ha) software is a movie with software on it. What about music CDs that have some fun "interact with the band" software goodies on them? It might be sold in a music store next to music cds, but is it "music", is it more "music" than "software"? Finally, what if one of these cds was originally intended as a mainly music item, but the software happens to be so cool that people buy it just for the software and ignore the music entirely.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:43PM (#2508183)
    They're making the wrong categorization. They should be asking "is it an application, or is it content?" Everything that's not hardware is software; but some are applications (software that can be used to create content, or other software) and some is content (software that can't be used to create other content, or other software).

    Of course, this means that video games are content, not software, too. But that's a much more reasonable distinction to make, anyway. After all, what is a video game but an interactive movie?
  • by markmoss (301064) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:49PM (#2508214)
    Blackwulf, if I understand your post, the movie company first sell the videos for (say) $100. Of course, hardly anyone except a video store could afford that. Then after a few months when sales fell off, they drop the price to (say) $20. This is a bit different from selling DVDS for two different prices _at the same time_.

    It's not that you can't sell to different customers at different prices at the same time, but whether you should be able to get the courts to help you make sure your intended high-price customers don't go shopping in the low price section...

  • by M_Talon (135587) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:51PM (#2508229) Homepage
    If it was software, then it falls under the whole licensing rigamarole that most software does. However, they use the same type of legal warnings that VHS movies use. Plus, it's basically the same content. Yeah, it's got some flashy menus and such, but as many have said before if you classify this as software then CDs become software too. The content's the same, it's the media it's on that's different.

    This is YADL (yet another dumb lawsuit) perpetrated by a company who wants to improve its bottom line. Should be interesting to see if the Aussies have more sense in their digital media policies than we do. It sickens me when a company tries to muck with laws in the digital era just because the lawmakers are ignorant about new technology. "Oh, it's the same movie, just on a different media, but let's call it software so we can charge more". Disgusting.
  • by uqbar (102695) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:52PM (#2508237)
    I don't think consumers need to fear this one much. While either film distributors or video stores will see their margins affected, it all balances out in the end.

    Should the courts decide that DVDs *are* films, we'll probably just see more DVD's come out in an expensive version targeted at video stores a few weeks before the consumer market priced DVD's come out. Motivated video stores will get the releases early on (most have special agreements with the film distributors already anyhow). Those stores that wait will not see as many rentals since demand is highest at initial release, but they will save one the cost of the DVD.
  • Re:Workaround (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eXtro (258933) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:54PM (#2508258) Homepage
    This is already happening. When I installed a DVD drive in my linux box I browsed through a movie on DVD. One of the things included on the DVD was a copy of a Windows software DVD player. The DVD in question might have been The Iron Giant, but I'm not sure.


    I don't think this should matter though, what is the primary intent of the DVDs, delivering movies or software? When Chocolate Coated Sugar Bombs includes a CD with a piece of software on it does its status as a food product end in favour of becoming a software package? Unfortunately as a number of people have pointed out, logic has no place in court, so cut and dry things are never cut and dry.

  • by dackroyd (468778) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @02:59PM (#2508284) Homepage

    Funnily enough the Campaign for Digital Rights was having a discussion about whether CDs can be treated as software(http://uk.eurorights.org/lists/ukcdr/2001 -October/000872.html)

    This has large implications for backing music up and/or created mp3s as software is treated very differently to music under UK law, such ""Back up copies.

    50A.=97(1) It is not an infringement of copyright for a lawful user of a copy of a computer program to make any back up copy of it which it is necessary for him to have for the purposes of his lawful use.

    So it's nice to see Warner Home video arguing our case.

  • by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:09PM (#2508343)
    You won't be forced to watch anything if you play DVDs with a computer running Linux. In fact most Linux DVD players aren't even capable of playing the stupid FBI and Interpol warnings. That's part of what the Free in Free Software means: your software isn't supposed to force you to do anything.

    A laptop computer, if you have one, makes a fine DVD player. The best solution is to just not watch DVDs altogether. Usually the money from your DVD purchase is being used to prosecute some innocent people somewhere, or bribe national legislatures.

  • by nharmon (97591) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:20PM (#2508427) Homepage
    Where do you draw the line? What about choose-your-own adventure DVDs??? Are they computer games, thus software??? And what about computer games which tell a story, and even look and feel like a movie... Are they videos???

    The differences have become so disfigured that it comes down to applying the same rules for all forms of intellectual property. Everything from painting, to source code...

    After all, isn't it our argument that source code is free speech anyway?
  • by liquidsin (398151) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:26PM (#2508489) Homepage
    I just had the most horrible vision of the RIAA reading your post and realizing that they could put a 30 second track at the beginning of every cd, of a stern sounding voice *reminding* you that you can't copy the cd in it's entirety or any of it's contents. A little code like on dvd to make sure you can't skip through the track (or worse, to play it at the beginning of EVERY track)...
  • by ngibbins (88512) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:35PM (#2508576)
    In the UK at present, it is not uncommon for film distributors to charge different amounts for the non-theatric hire (film clubs, schools, oil rigs etc) of a film based on the physical medium. A 35mm print of a film might cost £250 for a single screening, compared to £80-100 for a 16mm print and £50-80 for a VHS or DVD print. They're all still films, but the different media command different prices. Interestingly, a rental agreement for a film in one format does not permit exhibition in a different format - often different formats are distributed by different companies.

    However, that is not the issue behind this Australian case, where (cheaper) retail prints are being used in place of (more expensive) rental prints. The price does not reflect the 'value' of the physical print or of the film therein (although for VHS, the recording quality of rental prints is generally better than that of retail), but rather the rights which are permitted to the owner of the print.

    IMHO, Warner is entirely justified in attempting to stamp out unlicensed rental of retail prints, just as it already makes non-theatric hire licenses available at a lower price than that of theatric hire licenses (as would be required of a cinema or other commercial exhibitor). I say again, the cost of a print (for sale or rent) depends on the exhibition rights which are given to its owner.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:38PM (#2508600)
    If warner claims that the DVD is a software, then it is potentially opening a pandora's box. Soon, the artists will demand that they should be compensated for including their work in software! Is Warner prepared for such an outcome? While for new movies, it might have some contract in place, I bet they don't have any such contract for old movies and that would prevent them from bringing older movies on DVDs
  • by GemFire (192853) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:53PM (#2508675) Homepage
    "IMHO, Warner is entirely justified in attempting to stamp out unlicensed rental of retail prints, just as it already makes non-theatric hire licenses available at a lower price than that of theatric hire licenses (as would be required of a cinema or other commercial exhibitor). I say again, the cost of a print (for sale or rent) depends on the exhibition rights which are given to its owner."

    Do you not believe in "First Sale Doctrine"? This is the part of the law that allows you to do things like sell (or rent) your purchase. A victory by Warner in this case is a loss for the people side of the equation. Right now (in the U.S. anyway) if you want to start renting out your VHS and DVD collections (it is illegal to rent CDs - the people lost in that lawsuit,) there is no law that says you can't. After obtaining the proper business permits, you're in business. Nor are you required to purchase any special versions of the material or pay any further royalties to the producers of that material. If Warner wins in this case that could change. You could lose your rights to sell or rent your property.

    http://www.amfcc.org
  • by Lonath (249354) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:56PM (#2508701)
    Here's why.

    These exact same bastards are claiming that software isn't protected speech in the DeCSS case.

    If software isn't protected speech, and DVDs are software, then DVDs are not protected speech.

    That means the government can start censoring all kinds of movies, and music and assrape the entire entertainment industry.

    Then, they can see how it feels to have the First Amendment rights that they value trampled a little bit.

    In fact, I might start just such a crusade just to be a prick.

    It makes me wonder if people who open their mouths and start spouting bullshit that that they think will help their position of the moment ever think back to what they said yesterday. I wonder whether or not they think about any sort of a larger picture, or whether they are even capable of understanding things in a larger context. Did you ever read that "mappers" and "packers" paper? They must be a bunch of packers to start doing something this stupid in the face of the DeCSS thing.
  • by HaloMan (314646) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:59PM (#2508721) Homepage
    If you can have a Virus on a DVD, surely it must be software?

    Besides, as the DVD prices in Austrialia are cheap, and no-one rents DVD's anyway ($3 for two nights when you can buy it for $9) it mustn't be that important, unless it's the Tax (ie. EU's Computer tax is alot lower then on Films)

    And besides, there's always DivX....
  • DVD is Software (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bwt (68845) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @04:39PM (#2509025) Homepage
    The definition of software under the copyright act is basically any instructions that make a machine produce a desire result. There are US legal precedents that imply that HTML qualifies.

    Unlike a music CD, a DVD has navigation commands that were rich enough to implement the old game Dragonslayer. This includes chapter markup, paging, etc... The MPEG-2 and AC-3 compression is essentially instruction for how to reproduce the raw video and sound. Even the CSS encryption TPM is a software mechanism. During the preliminary injuction hearing in the DeCSS DMCA case Kaplan asked the MPAA guy something like "What is this key thing? is it hardware, is it software?" and the reply was "it is software".

    I think it is very clear that DVD's are more than simple content. They are meant to be read only by a particular computer program.

    The implication is that 17 USC 117 applies which gives "owners" of software certain additional rights - ability to "adapt" for use in a machine and ability to archive. If a DVD is software, it also refutes judge Kaplan's reverse engineering analysis (he found the DMCA RE clauses only apply to software works and wrongly assumed that a DVD wasn't one).
  • Both ! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BigJim.fr (40893) <jim@liotier.org> on Thursday November 01, 2001 @04:54PM (#2509145) Homepage
    A movie is software, so a DVD indeed is software, and so are a VHS tape and a vinyl record : although analogical, they still contain instructions that are interpreted by a device, so they qualify as software.
  • by innocent_white_lamb (151825) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @07:03PM (#2509843)
    The point that you're missing here is that the rental of a film on 15m or 36mm stock is just that. A rental. You pay the film distributor a set amount of money and you get to show the film that you have rented in the way that you have agreed to. The film stock doesn't become your property; you return the print when your exhibition is completed.

    When a video rental outfit purchases a movie on VHS or DVD or what-have-you, that's an entirely different kettle of fish, in my opinion, because the video rental outfit has actually purchased the media that the film comes on, and they don't have to return them to the distributor after a set period of time as they would if they rented a film from that distributor.

    It's the difference between renting an apartment and purchasing your own house.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2001 @07:27PM (#2509967)
    A rental shop hires - what - 4 staff on minimum wage? Wow, $20 per hour, $160 per day, that's WAY less than $100,000 per year.


    $100,000 buys you about 1,000 DVDs. How many DVDs does an average rental store have? More like 10,000.


    And in case you hadn't noticed, margins on ALL businesses are razor sharp. It's a direct consequence of the free market. The only businesses that have comfortable margins are those working in niche or monopoly positions.

  • by M@T (10268) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @10:22PM (#2510555)
    Is a tape music or software?
    Is a floppy disk music or software?

    The media that something resides on does not change the identity of what it is. Therefore a DVD-based movie is still a movie.


    ..and to finish the point - a DVD-ROM computer game is still a piece of software.

    If I were fighting this I'd be spending a lot of
    time looking at the marketing practices of Warner Bros... How are they marketing it? As movie?
    or a piece of software?

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