The customer is wrong

I just watched the highly lame “You wouldn’t steal a car…Downloading pirated movies is stealing” ‘trailer’. How’s this for irony: I watched this trailer because it was the SECOND thing to play on the DVD of Die Hard 4 that I just purchased. The FIRST thing to play on this DVD was a menu that asked me what language I would like: English, Mandarin, Russian, and about 8 other languages that I had never heard of, or couldn’t read. The DVD cost me 7RMB – about $1 – from the guy who has a 1m by 3m (about 3’ x 9’) booth selling DVD’s that look almost legit (minus the flat plastic packaging). But this is the just ironic frosting on a very annoying DRM cake. What’s the DRM cake I’m talking about? Let’s start from the beginning. {I’m writing this while watching the movie, so I’ll include a little commentary for your entertainment}

I’m living in Shanghai for a while. It’s very fun. Great city, interesting people, very kid tolerant, very cool place. Check my personal blog for details. {DH4 commentary: How come the guy who is “a Mac” is using a system that’s obviously not Mac OS X? Isn’t he too cool for that?}

We took a trip to Beijing last week. It was a blast. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt. It was a very nice place (I won’t mention that the reason we stayed there is because when my wife was telling me how much it cost, I thought she was talking in RMB, not US$). Being a fine upstanding establishment, the Hyatt purchases legal, licensed electronic hardware for their rooms. {DH4 commentary: So hackers don’t notice that there’s a big blob of C4 installed in their computer?} Our room had a Panasonic DVD player. Being the gadget freak that I am, we had brought along a batch of DVD’s and a laptop, thinking we could watch movies on the laptop (because hotels in the US charge you $8 to watch 1 of the 13 bad movies they offer on Pay-per-view. {DH4 commentary: Hackers all play with “dolls” – real men shoot guns}

Anyway, after a busy day of wandering around The Forbidden City, the mom & dad needed a break, so we decided to pop in a movie for the kids to watch. So we popped in our 100% legit copy of “Cars” (because my 2-year-old likes “Lighting DeQueen”). I saw 5 Chinese characters that, roughly translated said “The movie industry is far more interested in pointlessly trying to squeeze dollars from good customers than allowing those customers to use the product they purchased”. My movie was Region 1. {DH4 commentary: Where is the army of hackers required to simultaneously take down every major network in the country? I don’t see this group represented anywhere.} And I’m living in Region 6. So I have a few alternatives: I can buy a legitimate Region 6 copy of the movie, I can buy pirated DVD’s, or I can download the movie. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which one I prefer. {DH4 commentary: Hackers are only slightly squeamish when it comes to killing innocent civilians.} Here are a few hints: I’ve been here 5 weeks, and I still don’t know where to find legal DVD’s. There are 4 sellers of pirated DVD’s within 3 minutes walking distance of my apartment. My network connection is MUCH slower than it is in the states. {DH4 commentary: I believe destroying a helicopter with a car is more plausible than being able to make all the Anthrax alarms go off in every federal building in the capital simultaneously}

Honestly, if I’m in law enforcement, I believe I’d prefer people just download their movies, because that doesn’t pump money into any pirate cartels – there’s no illegal manufacturing or illegal distribution channels required, just some schmuck with HandBrake or DVDShrink, and a network connection. If I’m in the movie industry, I want people to re-purchase their movies, I guess. But I’m not in either. {DH4 commentary: Kevin Smith stretches his talents as a thespian to play a Star Wars obsesses nerd. Honestly, his cameo has been the best part of the movie so far.} I’m a generally legit guy with a belief that while the customer may not always be right, if what I expect my customer to do causes them to spend both more money & more time, I probably won’t have that customer for very long. {DH4 commentary: If someone who has a backup generator and a wall of video screens isn’t able to prevent some schmuck from pwning his webcam, we’re all screwed…}

I’m currently looking at Hulu and Comedy Central right now:  Between the two of them, they have almost enough to let me quit shelling out $80/month to ComCast for the privilege of watching 6 channels (3 of which are in HD). Only 2 channels left (curse you, Noggin & PBS Kids). Of course, my dependency on those two channels will be decreased to zero with a few years, but I’d rather just give my $80/month directly to ABC, NBC, Comedy Central, Noggin, and PBS, than continue to give it to ComCast. I wonder if they’ll take donations. (Yes, I know PBS does J)

{D4 commentary: When someone as big at Bruce Willis throws someone as small as the Evil Asian Kung Fu Hacker Woman through a bookshelf, the small EAKFHW does NOT stand back up for a very long time. Of course, Bruce Willis has already fallen, been beaten down, and generally been pummeled, so perhaps I’m just struggling with my “suspension of disbelief”. }

Well, my whining about the state of DRM video is about done, but this movie deserves a few more comments:

Does no one realize that systems like the natural gas pipeline have a PHYSICAL failsafe to prevent “all the gas from being routed down one pipe”? When you “have a gun to your head” you don’t spend time writing a UI for your new “encryption algorithm”. And, having been involved in software for, holy crap, almost 15 years now, even if you buy the basic premise of the movie (“A Fire Sale”), the level of complexity involved in getting that many different systems all controlled by a single central, accessible UI (they can get to a camera in a Rutger’s elevator in a few seconds – sounds like an amazingly good UI/navigation/control system to me) would take an army of people many many years to pull off. And while it’s all being designed, the systems trying to be pwned are constantly changing.

But I did learn one valuable lesson from this movie: nerdish folk who can write code are so disconnected form humanity that they must be forced to see the consequence of their theoretical actions by heroic types before they’ll begin to feel empathy for their fellow humans.  It's true.  Until I saw The Net, I was honestly dedicating my life to destroying civilization for fun.

If I had stolen a car that had this movie sitting on the passenger seat, I'd return the car to the rightful owner, and turn myself into the authorities.