ACCC steps up DVD investigation

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has stepped up its investigation into the practice of DVD regional coding, following concerns that vendors are not properly advising consumers that certain codes may lead to a lockdown of their DVD players.

The investigation has been highlighted since Chris Thomas, a Gateway customer, approached PC World in August after his DVD player locked down when playing a Region 1 DVD in his drive. His complaint was subsequently picked up by the ACCC, which met with Thomas yesterday. The commission was to approach Gateway with regards to Thomas' concerns. However, at the time of publication, Gateway did not respond to calls for comment on the issue.

Thomas said his Gateway Solo Notebook's DVD player was locked down to Region 1 after playing a DVD from the US. Although his DVD player was hard coded to Region 4, it allowed him to change region settings on his drive in order to play the Region 1 DVD movie, which he did. However, after playing the DVD he was unable to revert his player back to Region 4, which is what all the DVD movies in his collection of 60 titles, are coded to.

According to Thomas he was given no notification by Gateway that changing his regional settings would result in a lockdown of his player. "I had no warning at all," he said. "I had one chance to change mine, and it locked down."

All DVD manufacturers are required by the DVD Copy Control Association in California to incorporate the Regional Playback Control system. The RPC system divides the world into six regions as a way of eliminating the possibility of purchasing a DVD movie ahead of its local cinema release. Australia, along with New Zealand, South and Central America, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean falls into Region 4, while the US and Canada for example, comprises Region 1.

In addition to the regional settings, users are normally given from five to 25 chances to switch between regions (this is because DVDs can be purchased online from any of the other "regions" of the world) before a DVD player will finally lock itself permanently into a setting. Some players also provide a countdown, which informs a user as to when their player will no longer be able to flick between its settings. Thomas said his Gateway Solo XL provided none of these features and did not provide any notification.

"The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is concerned to ensure that consumers are provided with sufficient information at the time of purchasing computer and home video equipment to understand any technical issues which might affect the operation of that equipment at the time of purchase or in the future," said a spokesperson from the ACCC.

Yesterday's meeting with Thomas is just part of a lengthy investigative process by the ACCC into regional DVD settings. It first issued a release about it last December. At that time, the commission's concerns were that Australian consumer's choice were limited because of the RFC system. The ACCC was looking into whether Australian consumers were paying higher prices for DVDs because of the ability of copyright owners to prevent competition by restricting imports, via the RPC system, from countries where the same (authorised) video titles are sold more cheaply.

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Howard Dahdah

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