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Distribute Expertise: Blu-ray Blues

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jan Ozer

Navigating the troublesome realities of Blu-ray licensing and distribution.


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Blu-ray Disc Association

Now let's look at licensing fees paid to the Blu-ray Disc Association (see blu-raydisc.info). Briefly, the BDA is the consortium that developed all relevant Blu-ray standards, and it is charged with collecting and distributing license revenue to the technology contributors. These are the rules for content producers; I'll outline four usage scenarios below.

By way of background, as a content producer, the reason you sign a license with the Blu-ray Disc Association is to use its logos. If you don't have a license, you can't use the Blu-ray Disc logo on your disc or marketing materials unless you replicate your discs at a licensed replicator. Then you can't use the Region Playback Control logo that describes which regions the disc will play in. In addition, there is a free license that gives the right to use the Blu-ray Disc logo in packaging and marketing materials, but this doesn't enable use of the Region Playback Control logo (see blu-raydisc.info/license_app/lla_apps.php)

To explain, Blu-ray Discs can be encoded with a region code that restricts the region in which they can be played. Although the regions are different than with traditional DVDs, the principle is similar: Region-coded DVDs can only be played back in players sold for that region. Of course, you can also produce discs without a region code that can be played worldwide.

If you're producing discs with region-related playback restrictions, you'll need the Region Playback Control logo. To use that logo, you'll need to sign a Content Participant Agreement Light, which costs $500 per year and allows you to use both logos, but doesn't provide any third-party beneficiary rights (see blu-raydisc.info/license_app/cpalight_apps.php). In other words, if a licensed Blu-ray hardware or software vendor ships a deficient product that lets someone pirate your content, you can't sue it under its contracts with the BDA.

If you don't care about this, you can save $2,500 per year over the full CPA agreement, which costs $3,000 and gives you access to all logos and the third-party beneficiary rights I just described (blu-raydisc.info/license_app/cpa_apps.php).

With this as background, let's examine some usage scenarios. Suppose you're a corporation producing discs for inhouse or marketing use, as in the example above. You don't need a license from the BDA, but you can't use the Blu-ray logo in your marketing material unless you replicate at a licensed facility.

Similarly, if you're producing recordable Blu-ray Discs for inhouse use, you don't need a license, but technically you shouldn't use the Blu-ray logo in your marketing materials or packaging. If you're a wedding or event videographer providing recordable Blu-ray Discs to your client, it's the same answer — no license required, but technically you can't use the logo in your marketing materials or packaging.

Small producers selling Blu-ray Discs without region codes should sign the free license agreement so they can use the Blu-ray Disc logo on their discs and marketing materials. If you're selling globally with playback restricted by regions, you probably should opt for at least the CPA Light agreement. Obviously, if you're a major studio or TV station, you should sign the full agreement to ensure your rights against third parties.

Summary

These are the costs. Let's return to our replication vs. recording scenario. Overall, if you remove the license fees from the equation, many organizations would likely choose replication over recording when distributing even moderate quantities of discs to uncontrolled playback environments.

Here, it feels as though the BDA has done a better job matching costs with benefits than the AACS. Because most corporate or event videographers won't be producing discs that really benefit from or need the logo, the ability to produce discs without incurring a license charge is appropriate. On the other hand, most corporate producers probably don't care about copy protection; if anything, the ability to copy the discs would be a plus. Here, an up-front charge of $3,000 and per-project charge of $1,585 feel unwarranted, and they will likely push many considering replication back into the recordable camp.

From my perspective, the Blu-ray industry is responsible for the poor playback compatibility of Blu-ray recordable media. By requiring AACS on all replicated discs, it's forcing small and mid-size producers to choose between the recordable route, which will result in frequent playback incompatibility issues, and replicating their discs with a $3,000 up-front charge and per-disc $1,585 surcharge for a technology they don't want and that doesn't really work. It feels as though the Blu-ray industry should be able to find some middle ground that allows producers to opt out of AACS when they decide that copy protection isn't required for their projects.


To comment on this article, email the Digital Content Producer editorial staff at feedback@digitalcontentproducer.com.

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