Thursday, August 26, 2004

DVD Bootlegs

I discovered ebay and Half.com recently. I’m pretty embarrassed about it actually. I’ve always known those sites were out there, I have often used them in the past to help me get more accurate prices on used items, but I never really used them before. I’ve never been a goddamn addict before.

Like I said, I’m a bit embarrassed about coming into the whole ebay/half thing so late in the game. I feel like everyone has been there done that already with those sites. But I was mentioning something I just picked up this morning to a coworker. I mentioned that I picked up a pre-release promo copy of the new Stereolab on half.com and he said “what’s that.” OK, so I’m not the last one on Earth here, but I still feel like ebay/half is like AOL. It’s what how your grandmother uses the Internet.

It takes a while to get in the groove of the whole thing and figure it all out. You have to snipe. You have to have lots of wish-lists and favorites. You have to keep checking completed items prices. You have to be patient, waiting for the exact item you are looking for to come up. Don’t jump at it the first time. Check for items that have few bids on it already. Keep bidding until you get it for the price you want.

I’ve been really filling out my collections. I’ve got some great Lego sets. (I’ve seen some great Lego sets go for some shockingly high prices.) I’ve got some more antique thread to add to my collection. There are still a few things I haven’t gotten yet. I’ve still waiting to get a copy of the Andromeda Strain hexagonal vinyl. I’m still looking for the perfect vintage desktop Nixie tube calculator. One thing that did surprise me were the large number of Criterion Collection DVDs for sale on ebay and Half. Most of ‘em were still sealed. Most were selling for prices higher than DDD. I keep checking closing prices, trying to figure out which Criterions I could pick up for relatively low prices. I’ve gotten my first selection of Criterions from DDD but I’m still trying to fill it out, getting those gems that are on my wish list but not a must-have.

I finally got my first two. They arrived via the slow boat of Media Mail. The first came in and I was immediately saw a few things wrong with it. The package printing looked a little off, the disk printing seemed to have a different texture, and there were some strange package printing indicating something about Canada. After extensive research I feel that this is probably not a bootleg. It must be some sort of subsidiary licensing to a Canadian distributor. I’m still not sure. I can’t really find confirmation that there is a Canadian version of Traffic CC. All I know is that it’s not an official US release. Does it play perfectly, does it have all the bonus features, is the picture perfect, does it have a lower resale value? Yes, yes, yes, yes.

The second Criterion that I picked up off the Internet is Life of Brian. Again I knew something was amiss right away. It had the telltale DVD-9 sticker right there on the front. It also had the subtle odd silk-screening on the disk. After inspecting the disk, the next thing I did was to check out the seller’s rating on ebay. Wow, all I can say is I feel lucky to have even received the damn thing. This guy has the worst seller feedback I’ve ever seen. If I had read the feedback first, I would have never have purchased it in the first place. Suffice it to say, 96% positive feedback is a not a positive attribute. If you see a 96% positive feedback rating, stay away! Reading what others have said about their DVDs that they received from this seller I feel very confident that I am the proud owner of a genuine bootleg DVD.

How do I feel? Bad? Will I leave negative feedback? Of course? Will I send it back? No. I doubt I would get my money back. I would be out a couple of shipping fees. I would be out the disk and then start the whole search, snipe, search, snipe process all over again.

Besides, It’s fuckin’ Life of Brian! Fuckin’ Criterion Collection! Fuckin’ $40 DVD I picked up for $16!

At this point I’ll probably stop buy Criterion DVDs from anywhere except fully reputable dealers. I’m not worried about risks. I doubt I would have any playback problems with these Criterion bootlegs. I just don’t think it’s right. I really appreciate the work that Criterion puts out. They are a tremendous company and done way more then simply raising the bar for DVD quality. I’m still going to buy DVDs on the Internet. Lots of folks are selling things from their personal collection. There are lots of titles that probably not worth bootlegging. You can tell the difference. There’s no reason to restrict you used DVD purchases to walk-in stores. If you are careful, you can get a good deal and not get burned.

There is, however, one more thing that I might be picking up. There seem to be lots of box sets of Miyazaki/Ghibli films out there. These are some very cool items. Four-disk sets, seven-disk sets, with Totoro, Spirited Away, Kiki and all the others. These are great collections to own. Lots of his films are hard to find here in the States. Getting them all in one shot would be sweet. Buying a regular copy of Spirited will set you back about twenty bucks, (if you shop around). These sets go for as low as $35 and they stuffed with at least seven Miyazaki films. English, Japanese, dubbed, subtitled, pick a set, there seem to be a whole bunch to chose from on ebay. So why are my not jumping at one of these? Well for one thing they’re bootlegs. Yes, all of them. (It’s on the Internet, so it must be true.) Apparently these Miyazaki box sets are very popular items on the streets of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. The packaging is very nice. I’m sure the quality is top notch. Good transfers and sound, high quality pressings.

The problem is of course I like Miyazaki. I think Totoro is the best kids movie ever made, period. I don’t like the idea of ripping him off. Ripping off the artist? From the same man with over 100 Gigs of MP3 (backup) music files? So, who really profits from the sale of DVDs? The filmmaker? The retailer? The distributor? I’m sure it follows the same general principle of music distro. I’m sure the studio/distributor gets the lion’s share of the cash and then they give out a few crumbs to the filmmaker. Yup, there’s no reason to think that whoever gets the US distribution rights to the Studio Ghibli films will make plenty of dough but funnel just a trickle back to Miyazani & Co.

See the problem get even more complex. Most of these films you can’t even buy on DVD here in the US yet. There are all kinds of crazy laws the MPAA and the WTO have set up keeping you from importing amine (and other foreign media) into the country. It’s not a censorship thing. It’s a copyright thing. What’s the difference? Very little.

However there is a rumor out there (on the Internet again) that a US distributor will be picking up all the Miyazaki/Ghibli films and giving them they premium treatment they deserve. We’re all very excited about that. Apparently Disney has done a very good job with Spirited Away.

Oh, so it’s Disney that owns the US rights to these films. So if I go on ebay, and I buy one of these Hong Kong box sets I’m ripping off Disney. Well, maybe I don’t feel so bad about it after all.

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