VOD Service Acetrax Shutting Down, Forcing Customers Through DRM Hoops To Retain Their Purchased Movies

from the controlling-the-horizontal-and-vertical-but-mainly-the-'purchases' dept

Does DRM stop (or even slow down) piracy? This question’s hardly hypothetical. It’s been answered with a resounding “no” all over the internet. Of course, it’s been argued that DRM was never about piracy prevention, but instead was a vehicle for content owners to control the technology in the hands of the end users. If so, the answer isn’t much different. It may provide a sense of control, but those who want to enjoy their purchased content on devices outside the confines of the imposed restrictions will easily find a workaround or two simply by doing a small bit of searching.

Whatever DRM’s stated purpose is, there’s only one thing it does extremely well: inconvenience paying customers. Acetrax, a video-on-demand service that serves millions of customers across Europe, is closing on June 21st. Unlike other service closures, Acetrax is at least providing a sort of “exit strategy” for purchasers, but it’s one filled with busywork and limitations. [h/t to Techdirt reader techflaws for sending this in.]

After [the June 21st shutdown], owners of Windows PCs can download their films. Mac users can forget it, as can anyone hoping to re-download HD films. Even on Windows, it’s standard definition only from that point.

Movies that users have previously downloaded will cease to play from that date, so re-downloading films is mandatory if you want to continue to be able to watch them. Re-downloaded films will be tied solely to the machine on which they’re first played. Because they use Microsoft’s Windows Media Player DRM, the films can’t be transferred to any platform that doesn’t support the copy-protection technology.

Acetrax has provided a FAQ that details everything purchasers can and can’t do with their purchased movies. As stated above, purchased movies are standard def only and are tied to a single device running Windows Media Player. Purchasers will also need to set aside a bit of time to validate their already-purchased movies (and hope they’re not rubbing up against a providers’ data cap).

From the Acetrax FAQ:

If you’re watching on a laptop or PC (not including Mac), movies you’ve bought in standard definition (SD) are available to download directly from Acetrax.com. Just go to ‘My Movies’ and click on the download icon. Once the download is finished, you’ll need to have the latest version of Windows Media Player installed in order to watch it. Make sure you have the necessary rights on your computer and at least 2GB of hard-disk drive free on your PC or laptop so you have sufficient space to store the movie. Once the movie has successfully downloaded, you will need to play the movie for at least 5 minutes for us to validate the movie licence on your computer.

This sort of time-killer is only going to make former Acetrax customers more hesitant to purchase digital downloads from online services and, obviously, those who have spent the most money will be wasting the most time re-downloading and re-verifying movies they’ve previously purchased.

On a more positive note, Acetrax isn’t limiting its offer to apologies and DRM to-do lists. Purchasers of HD movies are entitled to refunds, along with customers carrying unused credit on their accounts. (Caveat: refunds limited to those with PayPal or ClickandBuy accounts — another unnecessary limitation, but at least it’s the same as the options allowed for purchasing and renting.)

While Acetrax is handling this shutdown better than others have in the same situation, the decision to lace its offerings with DRM causes the greatest headache for those purchasing the most. If Acetrax had decided to go DRM-free (not likely, considering the amount of major Hollywood films it carried), this shutdown would have been painless for its paying users.

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Comments on “VOD Service Acetrax Shutting Down, Forcing Customers Through DRM Hoops To Retain Their Purchased Movies”

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DannyB (profile) says:

It's happened before, and it will happen again

With music.

Microsoft created Plays For Sure. They partnered with third party media player makers, and with content owners.

Later Microsoft decided to copy Apple’s strategy more closely. So Microsoft announced that they would be shutting down the DRM servers for Plays For Sure. Better get your content onto the final device you want to rest in peace on.

Next, Microsoft introduced the Zune. Microsoft is the only device vendor. Microsoft controls the store. Microsoft partners with content providers. This time you can trust DRM — you won’t get micro shafted — for sure!

Later, Microsoft abandons Zune. So Microsoft announced that they would be shutting down the DRM servers for Plays For Sure. Better get your content onto the final device you want to rest in peace on.

Amazon and others have had episodes like this with ebooks and other content. There have also been episodes of purchased books magically being ‘disappeared’ from customer devices for various reasons.

Never trust DRM. Don’t buy it. Don’t participate. If they are ‘selling’ you something with DRM then you are getting screwed.

Rented or streaming content isn’t quite as bad because it is clear up front that you are merely renting for a limited time, or are streaming while that content is offered and available.

Is it any surprise that physical DVD’s seem to be disappearing from the market?

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“You can’t compete with free.”

Just another way of saying “I don’t want to compete, please protect me”

“Also, all DRM is due to piracy.”

Absolute rubbish.

“So this article is, if read with any sense at all, despite the silly denials, arguments against piracy.”

Wah wah, look at me, give me all your attention

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“…all DRM is due to piracy.”

Not true. I’m willing to bet a ton of piracy after this debacle is going to be due to DRM. If you want to get shafted on something you legally purchased go right ahead, but anyone who doesn’t turn around and acquire unrestricted versions of the stuff they legally bought is throwing money to the wind.

For example, I keep records of all the games I own through steam, so if the service ever pulls something like this, I know what games I own and what games to look for through other means. I do the same for every gatekeeper system I purchase content through.

So this article is, if read with any sense at all, despite the silly trolls, arguments against DRM.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“Also, all DRM is due to piracy.”

About this.

DRM is not a piracy stopping tool. It is a competition stopping tool.

DRM + DMCA anti-circumvention clauses means that you can’t create competing devices to play protected media without either paying for licensing or violating the law. Hence, total an complete monopoly on both the product and the consumption channels.

DRM was never about piracy. It is about control and keeping the competition away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“You can’t compete with free”
Then why do people buy things that can be obtained for free?

“Also, all DRM is due to piracy.”
Also, all knee-jerk reactions are due to outside forces… doesn’t mean it’s the correct reaction to outside stimuli.

“So this article is, if read with any sense at all, despite the silly denials, arguments against piracy.”
Really? When you buy a DVD at Target and a Target employee comes to your house later by order of the President of Target and snaps your DVD in half the sensible moral of the story is we should buy more DVDs from Target?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“You can’t compete with free.”

It’s funny how you’re so obsessed with commenting on this site, yet you’ve somehow missed that this is exactly the claim that most articles here completely disprove. Why, it’s almost as if you’re dishonest and never bother to read anything!

Either way, simple reality proves you wrong. Apart from all the physical example of why that’s a lie (bottled water sells very well despite every home having it literally on tap), there’s a wealth of history that shows you’re a liar. iTunes and Amazon are very successful at selling music despite the existence of both piracy and free radio. Books sell despite libraries, eBooks sell despite piracy. We’ve already had one of the top 10 internationally grossing movies of all time this year alone despite free alternatives. Linux hasn’t shut down paid OSes, OpenOffice hasn’t shut down MS Office, people still pay for phones and texts despite the existence of Skype and WhatsApp.

Reality proves you are a liar.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“In news today, after the Grand Bank Heist city police put up roadblocks every half-mile throughout the city and announced that these roadblocks would remain for one month, or until the perpetrators were caught.”

“In follow-up news today, massive traffic jams have brought the city to a grinding halt, with ‘rush hour’ now lasting from 4am to midnight as people wait to get through any of the average of 10 police roadblocks on their way to anywhere.”

“In news today, following the city police’s controversial bid last week to stop armed robbery by roadblocking the city extensively, five separate banks were hit by robbers. Amazingly, in three cases they fled by foot; in the other two either pushbikes or motorbikes were used. Due to the gridlocked traffic for the last week, police responders were unable to respond.

Police have now announced that they will do full strip-searches of anyone within a half-mile of a bank.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Actually, had to shut down because of piracy!

“… police did however apprehend one citizen who had picked up and was about to carry off a bag of money one of the robbers had dropped while fleeing. When asked by police why he didn’t attempt to turn in the stolen money, he reportedly told them ‘Hell, you guys are already treating everyone like criminals, so I figured there was no reason not to start acting like one.’ “

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hopefully one day the studios will realise that DRM is a losing game and offer DRM-free content as the record labels were forced to a few years ago (with no direct increase of piracy or loss of sales as a result).

Whenever that day is, that’s the first time I will even consider buying a digitally distributed movie from any non-independent source.

Anonymous Coward says:

“After [the June 21st shutdown], owners of Windows PCs can download their films.”

THIS is why I hate the current trends in proprietary media. Window’s is only a small segment of the media viewing market. Tablets, laptops, PC’s, smartphones, ipods and more are all capable of viewing internet media. How do media companies respond to this? By trying to tell you that you aren’t allowed to view or support their content on any but a narrow range of systems.

Here’s a quick tip. When something is scarce, you control the market. When you try to CREATE scarcity, you offend the market.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s pretty pathetic really, as the studios seem determined to follow every mistake the record labels did rather than learn from what went before.

DRM on music was a disaster. It did nothing to stop piracy, and fragmented the market giving Apple a monopoly on digital music distribution while those left over had to deal with the horrendously incompatible Microsoft DRM. It created a huge number of issues for consumers, putting many of them off even trying digital purchases, and destroyed consumer confidence when servers started to shut off. It’s only when they dropped the demand for DRM and allowed universally compatible MP3s to be sold that sales took off, and true competitors like Amazon began to challenge Apple’s dominance.

Here, the same thing’s happening with movies. Restricted files, compatibility issues, lack of device support, artificial monopolies, competing DRM systems – and no appreciable reduction in piracy. It’s about time they follow the example of the music industry and dropped this mess, before they lose even more sales from the simple fact that they refuse to offer what consumers are demanding.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s true. I was recently looking at buying some movie downloads that were on special offer. I already had the movies on video (up to twice) and some on DVD, but I was interested in digital copies I could just watch on a whim. But the thought of DRM and assorted looniness made me pause, until I missed the offer and the company missed my money.

And there I was in the mood for some Star Trek II… DRRRRMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!

RyanNerd (profile) says:

DRM is about control not Piracy

This reminds me when I got my first Razr from Verizon. After trying to get MP3s loaded on to the damn thing I learned that Verizon had intentionally crippled features that were built in to the Razr. In an attempt to force me to buy their crap music/media software (only $35) so I could upload my music, sync my calendar, and manage my contacts. After about 20 minutes I found a rogue firmware update that allowed me to do what Verizon?s crap software would do for free. Did this violate my warranty? Yep, you betcha, but it certainly was not piracy and it certainly was not illegal. I did not download a cracked version their crap software. I simply found a workaround for Verizon’s gouging scheme.

In fact I had a number of friends that had Razr?s and I charged them $10 to fix their firmware so that their phone were no longer crippled. So, I made a few bucks from Verizon?s DRM stupidity.

DRM has really never been about piracy. It?s about control and being able to squeeze $ from your customers.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Can you remove the drm?

A question, if the media file is already on a HD, isn’t it possible to just recode the movie into a different format like avi, mp4 or DV and avoid the drm?

Why bother? Much easier to just get it from a torrent site, and no different morally. You’ve already paid for the movie, you’re just letting someone else format shift it for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now that I think about it, this would be an AMAZING opportunity for some research. Monitor the traffic of major torrent sites for spikes following closures of ‘legitimate offerings’ like this, and if possible see what sort of files are seeing the uptick in popularity.

If it co-relates to older titles carried by the service then you have some convincing data that closing legitimate services and binding legal purchases simply increases piracy.

I mean, we all know that its the case, but published data is useful for the nonbelievers.

Stephen Smith (user link) says:

DRM Evolution

To me, I think it’s important that we remember that devs don’t think DRM is ideal, but it’s the lesser of two evils.

Devs aren’t morons, they realise that poor customer service – like this article highlights – will drive customers away. However there needs to be a development in DRM itself to make the process as painless as possible for all involved.

Pissedoffcustomer says:

And so I lost my purchased movies

I discovered too late the service was shutting down and now I lost the movies I purchased. I’m not really crying because having to watch them just on a PC, with windows, is laughable. I don’t want to have to connect my laptop to my TV and, more so, I don’t want to have to use windows to watch MY movies. They should have refunded EVERYONE who bought a movie from them. The article is dead right, I’ll be very hesitant to buy DRM “protected” movie in the future. It’s very likely I’ll avoid that altogether from now on.

Now I’m here waiting for a refund of my credit. We’ll see hoe that goes too.

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