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"Let's face reality," says Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Freedom Foundation, which has waged several legal battles with the Copyright Office, the MPAA and others. "When you talk to the movie studios and explain to them this isn't what the consumer wants, when you push them, they say, 'We don't care. We're gonna do it the way we want to do it,' and when they say that, I smell cartel. No vendor should say, 'I don't care what the consumer wants.' If they can behave against the wishes of the consumer, you have to ask, 'Why do they get away with it?' Maybe we don't have a good free market. This is not just about copyright. This is about the concentration among media companies and a lack of real competition. Copyright law doesn't protect a business model, especially one that's broken."
Representatives from the MPAA didn't return calls about this subject, but the organization has made its feelings quite clear: The studios want not only to eliminate sales of overseas discs but also to stop the manufacturing and distribution of region-free DVD players. The EFF is particularly concerned about the utilization of a new technology called RPC, or regional playback control, which will not allow regular DVDs, like that new copy of Seabiscuit you bought at Target, to play in region-free machines.
Of course, all this can be subverted; there are many sites that allow you to download software that turns your laptop into a region-free player, or that lets you reset the regional codes on your regular ol' DVD player. The studios, like the record labels before them, get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirrors of hackers and importers and regular old movie fans who want more than what they have to offer. And till they realize it's about what we want and not what they think we need, they'll keep alienating people who just want to see a movie when they want to see it, not when Harvey Weinstein or Jack Valenti thinks they ought to.
"All of this stuff irritates consumers," von Lohmann says. "After a while, if consumers find themselves with all these restrictions, it gives them the incentive to go to KaZaA to download this stuff. You give them a reason to seek out an unauthorized channel, which should be the last thing the movie studios want."