month's Bill Zone isn't so
much an editorial, as it is an issue, that I feel it important to
alert you all about. Over the past few months, I've been looking
into a number of suspicious DVD titles, that have begun appearing
for sale on the Internet. It all started when a friend in Australia
alerted me that he had seen DVD copies of Disney animated movies for
sale, while on a business trip to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, as many of you may know, is a modern Mecca of software
piracy of all kinds. You can find stores there selling pirated
copies of Windows 98 for as little as $15, for example, along with
bootleg music CDs, and VHS tapes and Video CDs mastered from
recordings made with camcorders, smuggled into movie theaters here
in the States. In fact, no sooner had Titanic
appeared in theaters, 2 disc VCD sets were already available from
retailers on the Internet, for as much as $100 (who said bootleg
software was always cheap).
My friend suspected these DVDs (which included non-Disney titles as
well) to be pirated immediately, but was surprised to see a local
government inspector (who is supposed to watch out for such pirated
software), simply walk by the rack of discs with barely a look. My
friend grabbed a few of the titles (which you see below), and sent
them to me to investigate further.
cursory inspection reveals that the discs come in very
cheap-looking, plastic clamshell cases (of the type common in Asia).
An insert bears the artwork for the particular movie, and the
statement that the disc is from The Best Movie Collection.
All of the actual studio artwork is used, but curiously, the studio
name and logo is nowhere to be seen (note that one of the titles
even bears the actual Oscar statuette, without any credit to the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Markings on the case
specify that the discs are DVD-Video, MPEG-2, Close Captioned, in
Dolby Digital, in NTSC format and are in 4:3 aspect ratio. Also, the
discs are said to contain English, Chinese and Indonisian subtitles.
Audio is listed as English only.
The discs themselves are recorded on deep gold colored media (as
opposed to the lighter gold of an RSDL disc) - often a dead giveaway
of recordable media. The only piece of information that could be
found which identified their place of manufacture, was a credit to
an Evervision Corp, which is found on most of the discs.
Upon inserting them in my DVD player, I discovered that they were,
in fact, DVD discs with no region coding. Many of the discs feature
film-themed menu screens of poor quality. And I quickly discovered
two things: the menus work poorly (sometimes with numerous errors),
and the disc features are often mislabeled. Gone
With the Wind, for example, says "Deluxe Letterbox"
on the inside ring (the clamp area) of the disc - it's in full
The quality of the discs are extremely disappointing. Judging by
the amount color bleed, chroma noise and edge enhancement visible,
my bet is that they are mastered (poorly) using earlier laserdisc
releases of the film (although, in at least one case, the quality is
so bad that I believe the source was VHS). What's worse, the films
have been, in many cases, altered significantly. In virtually every
case, the credits for the film have been removed (opening and
closing). Occasional scenes within some of the films have also been
removed completely, although for what reason, I can't say. On one of
the discs, the Dolby Digital Egypt
trailer appears, in such good quality, that I have no doubt it was
copied directly from the Delos DVD
Spectacular disc (which was coded for all regions). On
all of the discs, Chinese (Cantonese) subtitles come on by default.
I guess whoever made these discs knew who their audience was (the
video disc market in Asia is booming).
Copyright is a very tricky issue in many countries. Often times, a
country considers any work, whose copyright has lapsed in that
country according to local law, public domain, and thus fair game.
But clearly, by any reasonable understanding of copyright, these are
illegal DVDs. I have spoken to studio personnel, who, while they
would not go on record, assured me that legal measures were being
taken to address the problem (I am hoping to have official
statements soon). People wonder why the studios are reluctant to
issue their films on DVD without significant copy-protection
measures - well, this is why. This is also why the Divx option is so
attractive to them. These illegal discs have begun appearing for
sale on-line, with auction services, the newsgroups, and several
on-line retailers that specialize in import and bootleg software.
Some people have even paid outrageous prices for them - $100 or more
I would urge you NOT to even consider purchasing them. These are
not collectable titles, nor are they in any way special. They are of
exceedingly poor quality. I can understand the desire for some of
these movies on DVD. But creating a demand in Region 1 for these
titles, only serves to harm the DVD format. The sale of illegal DVDs
will only make the studios, who own the rights to these films, more
reluctant to release them legally, as well-mastered, high-quality
DVDs. So we may now have an even longer wait for Disney classic
animated films on DVD.
Consider this for a moment: what if you were an author, or
filmmaker, and had invested months of your life on a project, only
to see it stolen and sold everywhere, for exorbitant amounts of
money (of which you received nothing)? Worse yet, you saw your book
or film is edited without your permission, destroying your creative
intent. Even your credit - the most important thing for any creative
person - is removed. Not a pleasant idea, is it?
By purchasing these DVDs, or any such pirated item, you are doing
the gravest disservice to those involved in creating these films, to
those of us who may thus have to wait longer for legal versions on
DVD, and to yourself.
It's time to raise the bar, people.
As always, I welcome your comments.