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Regional Codes

This document quickly describes the DVD regional codes: what they are, how they are (ab-)used and why players honouring them are illegal rare in parts of Europe. This page is primarily about the impact on consumers though; movie fans from all over the world have to pay more for their movies (or are unable to buy them at all) because the movie industry chose to implement a censorship scheme (that has been found illegal in several countries!).

Not all continents are born equal

You'd think that -- with global trade and all -- consumers on different continents would be able to buy roughly the same things. Well, we are; we're legally entitled to it. It has become quite common to order CDs or books in the US or Europe and have them delivered to the other side of the pond.

Since DVDs have about the same form factor as CDs, this was bound to happen to DVDs too. The movie industry traditionally has released movies up to half a year later in Europe than in the US, with a 2 to 4 month gap between the showing in the cinema and the release of the video tape. Even worse, they usually charged more to European consumers!

They could get away with it in pre-internet, VHS-only times because there wasn't that much communication between both continents and because the TV systems of America and Europe are incompatible. DVD, however, has the exact same format for all of the world...

Since this would mean that either European consumers could order DVDs of movies that weren't in the cinema yet or buy their movies at the (much lower) American prices, this would mean a serious cut in the profits of the movie industry, or an increase in the risk they take (since they'd have to begin marketing their movie in multiple continents at the same time).

To counter this ``competitive threat'' (what? a company can't even compete with itself?!) the movie industry came up with the idea of encrypting the DVDs and adding a ``region code''. DVD players would be locked to one region (1 for America, 2 for Europe, etc..) and would not be able to play other DVD movies. That way they could continue to:

What does that mean to me?

These four points above lead to a (presumable profit-maximising) situation that's most annoying situation for consumers, who are not only being artificially (often illegally) limited in what they can buy but are also grossly overcharged.

Not surprisingly, these DVD ``protection'' schemes have been outlawed in a number of countries and are rumoured to be contrary to one or more WTO treaties. (I haven't found the WTO text yet, so I'm not sure about that last point. If you know more, please mail me. Thanks!)

Market differentiation

Today we all live in a global market. It's normal for people to buy a CD or book in another country, it's normal to be able to expect that this CD or book will be usable in the country where you have it sent. It's normal that you buy your books or cds where they are cheapest, this makes sure that there'll always be healthy competition among the resellers so that the consumers can get their product for the lowest viable price. Protecting the consumer's interest is, in fact, one of the goals of recent trade treaties signed by the US, the EU and other countries.

This is in direct conflict with the interests of the movie industry, whose companies have a responsibility to their stockholders to maximise profits. Unfortunately, their plans are in direct interest to the stockholder, and, in some countries, illegal.

Why do they charge me more?

Ironically, the continents that get the movie last (or next-to-last) usually pay more than the continent where the movie was shown first. Movie studios can do this because the other continent has been viewing the movie reviews and movie advertisement on international television for months; this means that the consumers in those countries are more eager to watch the movie and/or buy a copy of it.

Conversely, movies are sold much cheaper in countries like India. This is quite logical because a lot of the people there cannot pay the same people in the west pay. Region codes are used by the movie industry to prevent ``import of cheaper copies from India''. But if they can make a profit at those prices, why do they ``need to'' charge consumers in western countries more?

This is clearly a plot to maximise profits for the movie industry, at the consumer's cost! Legal issues aside (some WTO treaty seems to say that consumers should be able to buy their products wherever they want), the movie industry is trying to defend this move by saying that import from cheaper places will turn their business unprofitable. But if they are profitable in those cheaper places, why can't they sell us the movie for that same price too? Apart from the legal issues, I really don't know what to think of an industry that's afraid of competing with itself...

Well, except for a deep distrust and a feeling that I'm being screwed... The movie industry is trying to take away our legal rights (buy your movies anywhere, copying for personal use under the ``fair use'' clause of the Berne convention) away in order to maximize their own profits.

The Berne convention and WTO documents only grant up to a certain amount of protection to copyright holders (like movie studios) and an about equal amount of protection to consumers (us). The movie industry is (illegally) trying to increase their ``rights'' by using technical tricks. If you want your rights preserved, you'll have to work for it now!!!

Support the OpenDVD project

Go to our linkus page and link us, journalists, please write about this scandal and try to inform your readers about how their legal rights are being taken away from them by the movie industry. This illegal action by the movie studios should be stopped now!


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