or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14

   July 20th, 2014 Brian Herzog

DVD with padlock installedHere's something that was entirely new to me - I didn't have a very good answer at the time, and, really, I still don't.

A patron called with this complaint:

I checked out two DVDs from other libraries, and am having trouble with them. I only have a laptop at home for watching movies - no television with a regular DVD player - and these two DVDs won't play in it. Other library DVDs I've gotten in the past have worked okay, but I noticed these two are purple. Why won't they play?

Uh... I had no idea. I thought purple DVDs could mean either just purple-colored plastic as some marketing gimmick, or, a colored data side could mean a DVD-R. I asked her to verify that these were real library DVDs, with the library's stickers and everything else on them (as opposed to a copy someone just burned and kept the original for themselves [which happens]), and sure enough, they did.

So they were real DVDs that some library purchased, yet they wouldn't play in her laptop.

I did some quick web searching, and found that other people do indeed have trouble playing purple DVDs. Mostly it's people with PlayStations (for which some guy has a tape-based solution).

Since I struck out there, I thought I'd look up these DVDs in the catalog to see if I could learn anything - and surprisingly, I did. One record had this note:

"This disc is compatible with all DVD players authorized in the U.S. and Canada"--Container.

So much for that. However, the record for the other DVD included this note:

"This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives"--Container.

Ehh... so it's another misguided DRM "feature." Now my best guess is that these DVDs are encoded to only work on play-only DVD players, whereas this patron's laptop's DVD drive was a read/write drive. I love that media studios treat everyone like potential criminals.

Anyway, I'd never noticed these purple DVDs, but I put one on request for myself to test it in various laptops I have. But some cataloger somewhere must have known these are limited-use DVDs, since not all of our patrons will be able to use them. My vote is to never buy these again.

Has anyone else encountered these? Am I right in thinking this is a "security" "feature?" Does anyone know of a way for my patron - who only has her laptop and no other DVD player - to watch these movies at home? Thanks.



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Potential, Interrupted

   December 2nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Lighting McQueen car with bootWhile with my family for Thanksgiving, my nephew Jake showed me his latest toy car - Lightning McQueen, with a boot.

He loved it, because it was something new from his favorite movie. But the more I thought about this particular toy, the more I wondered about life in general.

Whose idea was it to sell kids a toy car that is designed not to roll? Where's the fun in that? Lots of kids' toys don't do anything, I know, and rely heavily on imagination to make them fun - but this defies even that. It seems like the gratification comes not from playing with the car, but just from owning it. Personally, I think this is a Very Wrong Message to send to kids, but that's not why I'm bringing this up.

It also occurred to me was that this booted toy car is very similar to downloadable media with DRM (because I have a tendency to relate every single aspect of my life back to libraries).

Patrons can get some limited joy out of them, but the built-in handicap of DRM is contrary to how (I think) downloadable media is supposed to work. DRM doesn't render downloadable audiobooks completely useless, but it does derail their potential and makes enjoying them unnecessarily difficult.

I asked Jake why he liked this car, since it didn't roll, but being three years old, he just said he wanted it because it was Lightning McQueen. I tried to get him to play with his brother and me as we zoomed cars that did roll back and forth to each other across the floor, but he just sat on a chair holding his new car and looking at it.

As an uncle, I felt bad that the limitations of Jake's new toy kept him from playing with us. But he didn't seem upset, and I figured he'd eventually realize that looking at a car that doesn't work isn't as much fun as playing with one that does.

As a librarian, I feel like every downloadable media option available to us has a boot on it, and people are afraid to get down on the floor and start rolling cars around. We're timidly exploring "free-wheeling" options, and I am hoping libraries and Jake quickly come to the same realization.

And I know I might talk about the wrongs of DRM too much, but it just bugs me.



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