The Dark Knight DVD doesn't work in Linux

by Stephen Fluin 2009.11.29

Two days ago, it was Black Friday and my local Best Buy was having some great deals on movies. They had a bin of movies for $3.99, and I was shocked to find "The Dark Knight" in this bin. Typically I try to avoid feeding my ever-growing DVD collection, as I am trying to wait for physical media to disappear. I thought that in this case, it would be worth it to give the companies involved in the production and distribution of this film a meager $3.99 for their efforts.

Fast forward to today, when I tried popping the DVD into my computer to watch the movie. The first thing I notice is that there is a handy pamphlet in the box stating 'How to get your digital copy of The Dark Knight". I have run into this before, where they offer a free digital copy of the movie, but you have to download it and watch it all using software they wrote, and they require you to install on your computer. These options are typically thrown right out for me. One would think that the main reason to throw this out is because of the incompatibility on Linux, but this is only secondary. The main reason is that I don't want to install some unknown untested junk software on my computer and rely that the movie publishing companies know what they are doing when designing spyware and adware free software that won't negatively affect my performance. This has been my philosophy since the first days of DVDs on Windows when each disk you bought came with a copy of "PowerDVD".

So even though I have this general prejudice against downloading copies of movies from the distributer, I figure "why not try it out". I visited the Warner Brother's digital copy website to see what they had to offer. A price pops up on the screen, telling me that for the low price of $1.99, I can have a copy of the movie that I already bought a license for, and that I already bough the physical media for, and that US law states I am legally enabled to make a free backup of. This is just laughable, so I quickly move on to start watching my new DVD.

I start up my preferred media playing program, VLC, and select that I want to watch a DVD. Nothing happens. I try again and again, reading through various error messages and blog articles discussing the problem. It appears that the Digital Rights Management (which is short for "How we stop you from watching your DVD") is incompatible with my media player. This is unacceptable, and I'm almost certain I will never purchase another DVD without first checking its DRM status.

There is a fair bit of irony, in that the majority of the blog and internet posts I read suggested simply downloading a copy of the movie using a filesharing network. I won't admit to having used any of these before, but I have heard that they always have quality digital copies for download in standardized format that you can have, and keep, and play using whatever software and operating system you want. It almost sounds like something I would have paid for, but Warner Brothers had their chance already.