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

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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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/13/14”

  1. Denise Says:

    The purple backed discs are DVD-R and usually don’t carry a security measure. I would suggest to the patron to try a different media player (I like VLC) and see if that helps.

  2. Jared Says:

    VLC media player is an amazing piece of software. It pretty much ignores region locks and DRM. I’ve never had a DVD or video file which VLC can’t play.

  3. Winona Says:

    When I worked in A/V cataloging at an academic library, we purchased a lot of DVD-Rs (mostly from Films for the Humanities). After a few people had trouble playing them on classroom DVD players, laptops, etc., we simply put a sticker on each case stating “This DVD may not play in all DVD players.” Not a solution but more of a CYA scenario. Warner Archive also sells DVD-Rs, as they print more rare movie titles on demand for customers.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Denise @Jared @Winona: thanks everyone for the ideas (and to the people who emailed me directly too). Purple DVD = DVD-R makes total sense to me, but I was surprised a vendor we would buy from would be shipping those. I placed the item on request, because I want to see what it actually looks like and where it came from. And I definitely like the idea of using extra stickers to make this shortcoming more noticeable.

    I use VLC on my own laptop, and I’m also really curious to see if that works – I’ll post with the results.