30 Days of DRM - Day 02: Region Coding (Markets)
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Sunday August 20, 2006
DVDs are a good example of a consumer product that contains several types of TPMs. Many DVDs include Macrovision (designed to stop copying a DVD to VHS), Content Scramble System or CSS (the subject of important litigation involving DeCSS, a software program created to allow Linux users to play DVDs since they were otherwise unable to do so due to CSS), and region coding. I think the region coding issue is of particular concern and should be the subject of a specific exception within anti-circumvention legislation.
The premise behind region coding is fairly straight-forward. With DVD region coding, the world is divided into eight regions (Canada and the U.S. form Region One). Consumer electronics manufacturers have agreed to respect region coding within their products by ensuring that DVD players only play DVDs from a single region. The net effect is that Canadian-purchased DVDs will play on Canadian-bought DVD players, but DVDs purchased in Europe, Australia, or Asia (all different regions), are unlikely to work on those same DVD players (with the exception of those DVDs that are region coded zero, which can be played worldwide). The is also true for playing the DVDs on a personal computer - my Macintosh will only allow a limited number of region changes.
Note that the use of region coding has nothing to do with traditional notions of copyright law. The underlying work may involve a copyrighted work - DVDs and video games regularly use region coding - yet the protection is designed to manipute markets by restricting the ability to use fully authorized copies of works.
The region coding issue is particularly acute in Australia, which has a different region code from Asia or Europe and thus is susceptible to price discrimination on certain digital products. In fact, the Australian parliamentary committee reviewing DRM exceptions recommended that region coding not receive legal protection, concluding that:
"arguments that region coding TPMs are an essential tool in preventing piracy, that they cannot be separated from other varieties of TPM, and that they are actually copyright protection because they inhibit the possibility of infringement, are not at all persuasive."
Canadians should not be lulled into thinking that they are immune from region coding problems just because we share a region code with the United States. Canadians who purchase DVDs, video games or other region coded products while abroad will find that they do not work when they get home. Region coding is also showing signs of moving beyond the entertainment industry. For example, HP has experimented with region coding in their printer cartridges, restricting the ability to purchase a printer ink cartridge in one region to be used with a printer in another region.
Region coding is not about copyright, it is about market controls and a loss of consumer property rights. It should not benefit from additional copyright legal protections that would come from anti-circumention legislation.
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Sunday August 20, 2006