At Macworld in January, Apple CEO Steve Jobs trumpeted the arrival of Digital Copy: legit iPod-friendly versions of the movies you buy on DVD, that save you the hassle of being hounded by Hollywood's copyright cops. But then not very much happened, in the UK anyway.
20th Century Fox was the first Hollywood studio to support Apple's initiative in the US, announcing a slew of titles throughout the year, with the latest batch of 20 being announced at the end of August.
Fox has since been joined by Lionsgate, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros and Walt Disney, all of which have released movies with iPod-ready Digital Copy. There are 115 movie titles with Digital Copy listed on Amazon.com - yet the UK equivalent has just 19.
Understanding Digital Copy
Officially there are only two iPod-compatible Digital Copy titles available in the UK so far - Cameron Diaz rom-com What Happens In Vegas and Family Guy - Stewie Griffin - Best Bits Uncovered - both from 20th Century Fox.
The rest may include a Digital Copy, but it doesn't follow that they're also iPod compatible. Many of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases, for example, are designed only to work on your PC and / or PSP.
To get around this, Hollywood studios have come up with a common labelling scheme that should make it easier to identify when a DVD or Blu-ray comes with a Digital Copy - and what kind of devices each Digital Copy is compatible with.
The UK situation
That still leaves us with the question of where Digital Copy is in the UK right now.
First the bad news: we ran a straw poll of the UK offices for Hollywood Studios to find out what their plans for Digital Copy in the UK are. Some of our enquiries fell on death ears, while other studios simply didn't have anything to tell us. Even Apple doesn't bother telling UK consumers about Digital Copy, in stark contrast to its actions in the US.
One of the biggest disappointments concerns the DVD / Blu-ray release of Wall-E on Monday 24 November: The US special edition will be a three-disc release with Digital Copy; the UK version is a 2-disc job without. A spokesperson for Walt Disney UK told us they didn't have any information on any upcoming Digital Copy releases. You can draw your own conclusions.
Now the good news: 20th Century Fox is backing Digital Copy with a handful of iPod-compatible releases before Christmas. They are:
Family Guy - Peter Griffin - Best Bits Exposed (20 October)
Horton Hears A Who (20 October)
The Happening (3 November)
Shine A Light (3 November)
The X Files: I Want To Believe (24 November)
Digital Copy versions of each release will be found on the more expensive special or collector's editions on DVD and on Blu-ray.
Lavinia Carey, Director General of the British Video Association (BVA) - the trade body that represents UK home entertainment companies - also told us:
"There is no industry data on the use of this feature [Digital Copy] in our members' product releases. However, I am aware that they are monitoring the impact of trials on the sales of discs as they continue to develop new products and services to expand consumer choice.
"The BVA supports all initiatives which lead to greater access for the public to video works. It helps to broaden the range of titles, platforms and prices available, and this can only be a good thing as technology provides new opportunities for the public to view entertainment content in ways that suit their lifestyles."
Here's the ugly: Digital Copy looks like a great idea to legitimise what many of us are doing already - that is to create copies of our movies for viewing on the move. Some Hollywood studios, like 20th Century Fox, have seemingly embraced the idea. Others are more reluctant, but then what alternative do they have?
Charging ridiculous prices for movie downloads on the iTunes Store isn't going to win Hollywood many friends, especially when you can pick up the physical DVD for much less in the high street.
Digital Copy is a also great way to add value to DVD. It rewards movie enthusiasts who pay premium prices for the collector's editions and makes us all feel a bit more comfortable about watching movies on mobile devices.
The alternative is for Hollywood to make the same mistakes that the music biz did regarding digital downloads - and we all know how that turned out.
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