Amazon Unbox – Copyright really does rule?

I have talked before about Amazon’s Unbox movie download service – primarily about the usabilty of the service at the Amazon end – before. I did try it out (I rented Robin Williams in ‘Man of the Year’ for $3.99) and it was as advertised – the video arrived on my Tivo and the quality was fine. Once you start to watch the download, it’s available for 24 hours to watch as often as you wish (one niggle, it’s actually 24 hours minus the running time of the movie). The service worked well enough that I ventured back recently.

I went to buy something at Amazon and in the recommendations was ‘Master & Commander‘ I can have it in widescreen for $9.99 – pretty good for an avid Patrick O’Brian fan! Turns out that not only can I buy the DVD, I can download it to my Tivo – how can I resist? So I set it to download to my downstairs Tivo (yes, we have two networked on our home wireless system!). So far, so good.

As an aside, you seem to have to set money into a separate account (as you will see later, it seems separate and distinct from my regular Amazon account) in order to purchase. Sort of frustrating, especially as I CANNOT find out how much is in it. I have tried every obvious – and not so obvious – way to see what my balance is. Regular readers might detect a more ambivalent attitude than usual – this is exactly the sort of thing that winds me up enough to walk away – but I’m using $20 of free credits. If I was paying my money, it would be walk time till they get it right – right for me, the user.

Back to the download…..

I check today, and sure enough Master & Commander is on my downstairs Tivo. Woohoooo! As I have had a week of losing data, first thing I do is go to back it up to DVD. I have the Humax Tivo that has a built-in DVD recorder, I love it – and the only time I have needed their service they were very good (even though they lost my machine for 8 weeks)! I get to the relevant screen and get ‘Due to restriction by the copyright holder, you cannot save this program to DVD’). Turns out I can’t do anything except watch it right there, on that Tivo. I can’t move it to my other Tivo, I can’t use it on Tivo ToGo (watch it on a PC or Mac). Nada. Nothing. I can, of course, fill up my Tivo hard disk with it – if I’m smart enough to remember to mark it as ‘Do Not Delete’.

I don’t blame Tivo, I don’t blame Amazon (though the latter could make it clear upfront how restricted the download is), I blame the content providers. The media (RIAA and MPAA) organizations will carp and carp about how their members are selling fewer and fewer copies of their high priced products. No bloody wonder! I paid exactly the same price as the traditional DVD, yet I can only watch this on a single, fixed, device. I’m just glad I didn’t download it to the bedroom TIvo – having friends over to view it would have been a whole new experience!

But seriously, when will the content owners get real? As someone who has made their living in intellectual property for may years, I support paying for other people’s property. I’m anal about having properly licensed software, music and DVDs. But watch this space, the current content providers will have plenty to moan about soon. The availability of devices that enable ‘the rest of us’ to exercise our creativity will change the balance in where and how we obtain content to amuse our leisure time. HD video cameras are now inexpensive, good tools to edit and mix will be available soon (I’ll declare an interest – I’m co-founder of a Silicon Valley company that is working towards enabling all forms of media creativity). Then the majority of content I watch is unlikely to be from people who want to restrict my watching.

YouTube is just the beginning. Yes, there is a lot of mediocre content! But there are also plenty of adverts and content that I CHOOSE to go watch. Already the majority of my music listening is online (which is easily recordable, should I so chose). My watching habits may be next.

I’ll enjoy the schadenfraude of listening to large media wriggle.

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