The Digital Now

This Christmas, I heard a lot of people express skepticism about buying new DVDs and blu-rays. The reason was because was are supposedly going to go to digital streaming and storage of movies. What do you need a blu-ray for when you can have all the movie you want on a hard disk?

I remain skeptical of this.

I’ll ignore for the moment any arguments about technology. I’ve been streaming netflix movies to my TV for some time and they look fine. I’m sure that will only improve. I have no doubt that a lot of movies will be watched that way. And while there are concerns that the internet infrastructure can keep up, I’m sure enough money will make the problem go away.

But I remain skeptical that an iTunes like device will completely replace the video library, at least for a long long time. My skepticism is based on three recent events.

First, I recently bought both The Dark Knight and Star Trek on blu-ray with the so-called digital copy. If this is the future of home video, you can leave me out. The digital copies are only authorized on a certain number of machines (and the bad code caused it to register on my laptop twice). Hollywood has been immensely stupid on DRM and I have no intention of putting my movie pleasure at their mercy. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Second the recent incident in which Amazon yanked copies of 1984 off of Kindle was alarming. Bezos apologized but the reasoning behind it sounded ominous — a copyright violation. What might happen if we have, say, a “Coming to America” style copyright dispute? Will the movies vanish from our hard drives? Or what happens if some government agent decides that, for example, “The Tin Drum” constitute kiddie porn and then unilaterally yanks it from every video library in America?

Finally, there is the very real danger that certain directors (*cough* Lucas *cough*) might decide to put out new and improved versions of their movies, replacing original copies while you sleep. Do we want to give them that power?

The fundamental problem here is that Hollywood’s (and Washington’s) attitude is that you do not own digital copies of movies, music or books — you merely license them. I see this as the pin that may eventually burst the digital ballon. Until we move to a fairer system of copyright law — on in which you permanently own copies and fair use is protected — there will be curmudgeons like me who will resist. And with good reason.

It’s simply a fact that the technical hurdles of the digital movie era may be nothing compared to the pinhead politician problems. I’m not sure that has a solution.