In an attempt to get consumers to start investing their disposable income on packaged media again, Hollywood studios have embraced the Ultraviolet format, which essentially allows users to watch the movies they purchase on any device that supports the cloud-based digital locker. For instance, say you’re really getting into “Avatar”, but you’ve got a pesky doctor’s appointment scheduled right in the middle of your viewing. You could, in theory, pause the movie, trek to the doctor’s office, and resume watching the flick on your smartphone while waiting for the nurse to collect you. It’s an interesting idea, for sure, but movie-goers have not been overly thrilled with the format’s performance.
Ultraviolet is owned by five major studios — Sony, Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox, to be exact — all of which are struggling to keep consumers interested in collecting the movies they love. So when someone comes along and, through no fault of their own, threatens their business model, the studios are going to react accordingly. Given the industry’s shakiness at the moment, it definitely makes sense.
Such is the case of an eBay user who was accused of copyright infringement for selling his unused Ultraviolet codes online. Whenever he’d purchase a new movie — in this instance, it was “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” — the guy would stick the codes online for people to buy, usually for $6 a pop. Unfortunately, the studios aren’t too crazy about individuals separating the codes from their physical counterparts and putting them up for auction.
Here’s what the eBay user told The Consumerist:
I picked up “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” on Blu-ray this morning. It came with a digital download code good for a free Ultraviolet copy of the movie. As Ultraviolet is worthless to me, I listed the code on eBay. Within a few hours of the listing going up, eBay took it down for copyright infringement. They warned me not to list it again, or my account would be suspended.
I called their customer service number to explain that the listing was taken down in error, and the helpful lady on the phone was much more concerned with the fact that there was no birth date attached to an 11-year-old eBay account. Once we got that taken care of (she literally refused to help me until I tied my birthday to my account), she basically just kept reading and rereading the email to me over and over again.
Now, let’s forget the fact that I’ve sold Ultraviolet codes on eBay before. Let’s also forget the fact that, right this very second, there are a boat-load (metaphorically, not literally – that would be weird) of Ultraviolet code auctions live. How, exactly, are they able to claim Ultraviolet codes as copyright infringement? It’s a product. It’s barely different from me selling a physical copy of the Blu-ray that I don’t want, or the third disc in the set which is a DVD copy I’ll never use. And why are they enforcing this imaginary policy selectively?
Is this an awful lot of trouble to go through just to make, at most, $5? Yes, it is. However, I’m self employed, and today is a slow day.
According to attorney Jim Burger, this practice is considered “unbundling”. “[The] use of the UV code is governed by the UV license, [which] permit[s] the owner of the disc to access digital content in the cloud and does not allow resale of the service,” he explained to MESA. In short, unless you’re willing to sell the whole package along with those unused codes, studios aren’t going to be too thrilled with your online transactions.
Burger also added that individuals who purchase these codes from sites like eBay could be considered guilty of copyright infringement themselves. All of this may seem outrageously silly from a consumer standpoint, but the studios are obviously struggling to maintain an economic foothold in an age where people can download just about any sort of entertainment they want for free.
At present, there are roughly 20 codes available for purchase on the auction site, most of them ranging from $2 to $5, depending on the title. Since you shelled out your own hard-earned cash to bring these titles home, should you be allowed to sell the unused codes to those who only wish to purchase the digital copy? Should the studios be allowed to tell you how to resell something you already own? Let us know in the comments section.