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A Digital Copy is a commercially distributed computer file containing a media product such as a film or music album. The term contrasts this computer file with the physical copy (typically a DVD or Blu-ray Disc) with which the Digital Copy is usually offered as part of a bundle. It allows the disc's purchaser to create a single copy of the movie on a computer, and to view it on that computer's display or an external display (e.g. television) connected to that computer.
There are two types of Digital Copy. The first is a copy made in advance and included on the disc. The second is created dynamically from the DVD content itself. In both scenarios the publisher decides which content, formats, digital rights management (DRM) systems and technical parameters are used for the Digital Copy. Digital Copy systems based on existing pregenerated files are less flexible than dynamic transcoding solutions.
Digital Copy files based on existing files include only one audio track and no subtitles, although the DVD itself may have multiple audio tracks and multiple subtitles. Also, the quality is limited by the bitrate used to encode the file which is typically relatively low and not adjusted to the device to be transferred to.
Digital Copy files based on transcoding solutions can use the correct audio track and subtitle based on the user's location or choice and individually create the digital copy based on the target device properties (video and audio bitrate, display resolution, aspect ratio).
Most often, Digital Copy solutions offer Windows Media or Apple iTunes files with their respective DRM services, Windows Media DRM and FairPlay. Newer solutions also provide support for Sony PlayStation Portable and phones using 3GP video files and Open Mobile Alliance DRM. Some publishers limit their digital copies to Microsoft operating systems and devices. Linux-based desktop operating systems are unable to play this content. Apple computers and devices are not supported by their digital solution.
To limit the number of free copies, the disc typically comes with a single-use code to authenticate a computer over the Internet. Alternatively, content owners can offer the Digital Copy feature as a paid service. Often the authentication code has an expiration date, rendering the copy invalid if it is unused after that time.
Tech industry analyst Michael Gartenberg described the Digital Copy initiative as "a smart move" providing an easier alternative to customers compared to converting the files themselves using software such as HandBrake. Gartenberg was critical of Sony for restricting themselves to files for the PlayStation Portable that were not widely compatible with more popular personal media devices.
Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation described Digital Copy schemes as "stealing your fair use rights and selling them back to you piecemeal", disputing claims by Hollywood studios that it is illegal for customers to rip a personal copy of a DVD to put on a portable video player, even if they own the DVD. Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times pointed out that, with DVDs, consumers were being asked to pay more for uses they had before at no extra cost with CDs and cassette tapes.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols of ComputerWorld.com describes Digital Copy as "nonsense, a feature that is no feature at all." He criticizes it as an attempt by the industry to sugar-coat DRM, complaining that viewers should be able to watch the movie they have bought on any device they want, and that media companies should change their business plans to meet their customers' legitimate needs.