Not long ago the words ‘Digital Copy’ on a DVD or Blu-ray title signalled that you’d be able to download a copy of your purchase from Apple’s iTunes store and then watch it on a compatible device.
This was great for Mac, iPhone and iPad users whose devices play nicely with iTunes content, reasonably OK for Windows PC and laptop users who can download iTunes to their machines and awful for Blackberry and Android users who can’t play iTunes files.
A couple of years ago 4DVD and I exchanged some terse words over their decision to use a buggy third-party app to deliver the Digital Copy of The Inbetweeners Movie.
A big part of my annoyance was that nothing on the box made clear that the Digital Copy on offer relied on a non-native, poorly performing app or that the resulting download was difficult to back up, limited to the number of download attempts and – initially – of very poor quality.
Part of 4DVD’s response to my complaints was a claim of wanting to offer choice and serve customers who lack iTunes capable devices or simply prefer another options.
It’s the same laudable rationale behind the Ultraviolet consortium which now powers Digital Copies of some films and TV titles, including BBC DVD releases, but I’m not sure there’s really any more meaningful choice than the iTunes-only approach.
Over the weekend I belatedly got round to redeeming the Digital Copies of Django Unchained, Star Trek Into Darkness, and the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special.
Star Trek Into Darkness came with an iTunes code as well as the ability to download a Windows Media Player file for those who prefer life the PC way. Excellent for me but unfair on those with Android powered mobile devices.
To retrieve my downloads of Django Unchained and The Day of the Doctor, I needed to create an account with Flixtser, a company I have no prior relationship with and may well prefer not to deal with. and download a third party app to both my iPad and MacBook.
Beyond either not buying in the first place, or not redeeming the Digital Copy I paid for, I wasn’t really being offered a meaningful choice by Sony or the BBC.
Like most Mac, iPhone and iPad users – and there are quite a lot of us – my choice would always be to redeem the download from iTunes and store it in my iTunes library where I can easily access it with the rest of my collection.
Yet some studios have decided not to offer that choice and to force on me a far less flexible system which doesn’t even guarantee long-term access to my content.
As the Ultraviolet website clearly states, you’re only guaranteed streaming access to your films for 12 months and not all studios will allow you to download your content.
Even if you’re allowed to stream content beyond the year – and the whole idea of a time limit means you never really own the film – you may find that the ability to watch could be “be subject to restrictions that exist for certain periods of time, for certain titles.”
This means you may choose to watch a certain film only to find the studio won’t let you, perhaps because it’s been paid by a broadcaster or online streaming service for a period of exclusivity.
The original point of Digital Copy was to cut piracy and it’s entirely consistent with that aim to ensure that Windows and Android users have lawful ways to access their films. In the absence of iTunes coming to Google’s OS anytime soon, a cross studio platform like Ultraviolet makes sense.
But studios don’t need to adopt an either/or approach – the Skyfall Digital Copy allows the user to redeem either an iTunes or Android version – and if they really want to promote choice why are they shifting the concept of Digital Copy away from something you own towards a time limited, sometimes unavailable lending library?