Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
DVD player region free hack

I am part of a minority on the internet in that I am against pirating content. I do believe that content creators need to eat too, so I prefer buying my films and TV series on DVD or paying for them via Netflix rather than downloading them somewhere for free. But while I recognize the right of authors to get paid, I do not recognize the right of media companies to price gouge and charge me extra or deny me access based on where I live. I don't see why I should throw away the DVDs I bought when I was in the USA and pay for them a second time if I want to watch them again in Europe.

I am currently in the process of refurbishing my den. I threw out a 20-year old sofa and bought a comfy recliner chair. And then I decided to disconnect my Playstation 3, which I never use for gaming any more, and connect a new Blueray / DVD player to the den TV instead. But as I have a number of region 1 DVDs, I knew I needed a region-free DVD. The last time I asked for one in a shop they told me that they didn't sell those, but that was just a mix of the official party line and pure ignorance. DVD players you buy in Europe are by factory default set to play only region 2 DVDs. But many of them can easily be hacked to become region free by typing in a few numbers into the remote.

So I found the right website with information about DVD player hacks, and went to the store armed with my smartphone. I looked at the various models of DVD players on display and checked them against the DVD hack database until I found one that was easily modified. That worked very well, and back home a few touches of the remote later the new player is now able to play all my DVDs, regardless where I bought them.

In a previous thread a reader commented that circumventing regional restrictions is technically smuggling. And smuggling has always been a weird crime insofar as it often is outlawed, but the average person doesn't consider it to be immoral. It isn't as if you aren't paying for your goods, you just don't pay additional tolls and refuse to abide additional regional restrictions. In a world of globalization, free trade, and the internet, I can see a future in which regional restrictions will slowly disappear. Netflix is already working on providing a global service in the near future. And if the makers of DVD players really believed in the necessity of region codes, they wouldn't have built over 7000 different models of Blueray / DVD players that can easily be made region-free.

I'm not really familiar with the discussion about geoblocking, but as I recall, one of the argument pro geoblocking (they exist) was, that we do not have one market for video streaming, economically speaking, not even in Europe.

Which means, that getting rid of geoblocking would necessitate uniform prices in Europe, including countries with lower income, and people in those countries could not afford those prices anymore.
In a world of globalization, free trade, and the internet, I can see a future in which regional restrictions will slowly disappear.

Ha, college books, most medications, and even Steam would have a word with you. It's called Price Discrimination, and corporations are never going to let it go. If everything was region-free, you'd just buy your DVDs online from Russia/South America/wherever it was cheapest.

Of course, businesses do that every day and nobody ever calls them immoral, so I don't see why it'd be immoral for consumers to do the same.
Netflix costs €10 per month everywhere in Europe. I don't think that is pricing out many people.

Note that income inequality is less pronounced in Europe than in the USA, and European states spend far more money on welfare. You sometimes read crazy numbers about how many "poor" people there are, but that isn't talking about abject poverty, but of relative poverty compared to average income. In Belgium, where I live, the bottom 10% still earn 72.7% of the median income, while the bottom 10% in the USA earn only 47.4%.
Unless you're willing to pay the fines and/or go to prison in support of your principles, I can't see that bringing morality in the picture has any relevance whatsoever. My guess is that you are comfortable with circumventing legislation on this issue because you feel confident you won't be caught. Indeed, since you are posting on the interne about it I presume you know, or believe, that your act is not in itself illegal in your jurisdiction anyway. If you believed there was a good chance your act would be detected and you'd come to the attention of the legal authorities and receive sanctions I very much doubt you'd be doing it, much less posting about it.

In the past you've made it quite plain that you aren't prepared to draw the attention of the US authorities over certain legal issues they pay attention to, even though you clearly don't approve of the situation, because you apprehend that there's a non-trivial chance that they have the capacity to notice you doing it and the will to act. You seem to be doing what many people do, which is to choose which laws you will or won't obey based on the degree to which they inconvenience you and the likelihood that you will be found out.

Which is fine. We all do that but there is absolutely no merit in dressing it up as anything other than self-interest. And in the end I would question whether these small rebellions really do act in our own self-interest. In Western liberal democracies all of us are kept mostly safe and comfortable only by the network of laws and regulations that surround us. Every stitch unpicked weakens that fabric and lessens our collective protection.

That said, it is a ridiculous situation and the laws relating to it should be revisited and re-written.
I also don't believe in piracy or region locking.

However, recently, there was an article in the Daily Mail that Europe, especially France, was considering content quotas for Netflix and Amazon. So if the streamers end up having to subsidize uneconomic films, then it makes sense to charge people just in that jurisdiction to cover that incremental cost.
I definitely don't think that "smuggling" is a good equivalence to circumventing geoblocks.

Smuggling is a crime because it involves either avoiding taxes which the government of the location you are smuggling into wishes to levy. i.e. if you smuggled something into Belgium, you'd be denying the Belgian government their tax revenue, and they would then bring the law down on you.

Circumventing geoblocks to play a US DVD on a Belgian DVD player .. doesn't touch the Belgian government at all. Doesn't deny THEM any revenue. I really don't think there's any "old world" physical act that it is the equivalent of.
My guess is that you are comfortable with circumventing legislation on this issue

This isn't a legal issue at all. DVD region codes are not covered by any legislation. In fact the EU is considering whether they are an illegal trade restriction. DVD region codes are not a copy protection mechanism and aren't covered by any legislation that prohibits the removal of copy protection.

Note that the same is true for many other regional "price discrimination" schemes. For example if you book a hotel room or rental car via the internet, your IP address can influence the price of that hotel room or rental car. But you are allowed to use a foreign website or VPN to get a cheaper price. There is a whole business model where websites offer to find the cheapest price for the same rental car or hotel room for you by crawling the web and comparing the different offers.
Re the EPI numbers you linked, clearly Belgium has less disparity than the US. But "income inequality is less pronounced in Europe than in the USA" is not quite as supported by the data which is only for the minority of EU states that rate being in the OECD. Addding in the 15 non-OECD EU states would still leave the US disappointing but might narrow the gap with "Europe."

Austria had immigration requests equal to 1% of it population last year, which will negatively affect these numbers. (it is the best of times; and the worst of times)
Hey, Tobold!
How is your hand after surgery? Hopefully getting better.

I totally approve of unlocking DVD players. Because why not? You’ve paid the first-world price for the DVDs already. If other people compare it to smuggling and say you do it only because you think you will not be caught, let’s consider how many people use torrents, unlock DVD players, use pirated Windows and Office software and what exactly will happen when many people are sued in courts for it. Will there be mass protests? Damage to property incomparable to the damage inflicted by unlocking DVD players? Change of the government? Civil unrest? Anything else?

As far as smuggling physical goods into a country is concerned, my view depends on how much your country’s government helps you or not, how much damage you think they have done to you. Over here 95% of the population and the corporate sector and very likely the government agencies use pirated programs. Because earnings are low (the average salary is now in the neighborhood of 200-300 USD) and I bet the government wants it that way — pirated software, torrented movies, music, games — to keep things quiet. Fun fact: arranging a meeting of three people or more without the government’s authorization is illegal, clapping your hands in public to show disapproval of the government’s policies is illegal.

Fight the system! :)

I live in Belarus. In Steam we get EU2 zone prices. They are like 20-30% lower than prices in the USA and the European Union, yet they are much higher than Steam prices in Russia. Example:
Belarus and Russia are former USSR republics. Very friendly to each other. Very close relations. And Russia is richer than Belarus (trust me on this). No great reserves of natural gas or oil in Belarus despite how much the government want things to be otherwise.

So I thought there was no point in paying EU2 Steam prices and getting the same restrictions that Russian Steam users get like this or that game will get only Russian language in my region or this game can be gifted and played only in the ex-USSR. To hell with that, right? is a nice website that offers OpenVPN configuration files and one-day free trial of their VPN service with Russian servers. So, changing the country of residence in Steam was easy. I could do it physically actually if I was willing to spend three hours or so on physical travel by car, for instance. There is no actual border between the two countries.

Now I have same old gifting restrictions and Russian-only language restrictions that I had before but I can now pay much less. Seems fair.

Well, getting back on track, I think that vendors (software vendors, music and movie vendors) and legislators are too slow to realize that the world has changed, that consumers want none of their restrictions, that borders are a hindrance in a globalized world. Economy is far ahead of politics. Quotas on Netflix? What BS is that?
Circumventing geoblocks to play a US DVD on a Belgian DVD player .. doesn't touch the Belgian government at all. Doesn't deny THEM any revenue. I really don't think there's any "old world" physical act that it is the equivalent of.

Germany charges me 19% tax for all goods bought from outside the EU if the order is more than 22€. Orders of 150€ have to pay 3.5% customs too. So smuggling dvds would actually deny revenue. The act of circumventing geoblocks of course is legal once I am in possession of said dvds.

I remember having a non-european DVD that doesn't even play on a region free device. My solution was just buying a second dvd player. Sucks to have two but I can play everything. Although today Netflix is king, my second player is just collecting dust now.

The point of geoblocking is setting different prices. But really, people are lazy. If Netflix would stream the same content worldwide how many people would actually go through the trouble of using a VPN and foreign credit card to pay 5€ for the Colombian instead of 8€ for German contract? Certainly not me.
I suppose it comes down to two things.

A) If they earn twice as much money in country X as in country Y I can sell my DVD for double the money. Yes but that also means that selling it for the same price in country X will still net you a profit!

B) We release a movie in the US and only half a year late in Europe. That might have made sense ten years ago but in the digital age, you can easily release all over the world.
While price discrimination seems like an evil thing, it's actually a humane thing and lot of people would suffer along with the GDP if it was banned. (yes, not watching DVD isn't suffering, but think of medicine)

The problem: many products have low variable cost and high fixed costs. For example producing the first DVD (making the film) costs $100M, producing the second costs $0.1.
So on the one hand, the $100M is sunk cost and the company makes money on every DVD sold over $0.1. On the other hand if they don't make the $100M on all the DVDs, they go bankrupt.

So the idea is that they price the DVDs on the primary market (EU/US) so they make over $100M if the printed number is sold. Then they sell more DVDs on the secondary market for much less, since the people there can't afford EU/US prices. If you ban price discrimination, they will price them everywhere to EU/US, so they'll make less money and lots of people in the third world won't see them.
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