Buyer Beware: Ten DVDs and/or Blu-rays You Do Not Want To Buy

Money is tight these days. And when you are trying to build your own movie library, money is the last thing you can afford to waste. It is bad enough when one of the major labels overcharges for a movie because it has a strong fan base. Or releases a "Super Ultimate Edition" with more deleted scenes and other extras two months after you already bought the "Ultimate Edition". But it is not just the major labels who are capable of ripping you off. Unscrupulous stores, especially the online stores, are constantly trying to rip you off. Here are the ten worst examples.

#1: The Bootleg

There was once a time when it was obvious a video was a bootleg. Usually the box looked like a five year old cut out pictures from the movie, glued it onto a page with an actual movie review, then had the whole thing color xeroxed and folded up into a box shape. When bootleggers did try to copy the box, the colors were usually way off, the spine was out of alignment, and the text was blurry beyond readable. That was yesterday. Today bootleggers are capable of reproducing the box and disc to the point where it is almost impossible to tell the difference. They even replicate gold foil where the original had gold foil, instead of simply substituting brownish yellow. The pictures on the discs are identical. Even the program on the disc itself is identical, right down to the extras. But what is missing is the quality. Bootlegs are almost always burned instead of stamped. Burned DVDs can, over time, gradually deteriorate. It is the stamped DVDs that have the ability to last hundreds of years, provided they are stored in ideal conditions. As far as you are concerned, your manufactured DVD or Blu-ray should last your lifetime, or at the least the 40 years before the next generation of technology makes them obsolete. Burned discs often do not last the decade. Deterioration becomes more of a factor when the bootlegger uses a cheap no-named brand for his discs, which is often the case. Since the discs are mass burned instead of presses, the only way for the bootlegger to produce discs fast enough would be to burn them at the fastest speed their machines would allow. Burning at high speeds does lead to mistakes on the disc data. You will realize this when watching a bootleg and the voices go out of sync with the actors lips. Bottom line, if your intent on buying a DVD is to keep the movie as long as possible, then buying a bootleg will only lead to disappointment a few years down the road. Problem is that the bootlegs look so real that even major retailers have been tricked into selling them.

#2: The Used Movie

At one time used merchandise was relegated to yard sales and the salvation army. Used meant worn, especially when it came to the box. Early on a market for used VHS tapes did develop. From the start, video rental shops always gave their members the option of buying any movie they enjoyed, and kept their credit card number just in case a customer damaged or lost a tape. Stores like Blockbuster often devoted entire rows of shelves for selling used movies. But with stickers on the tapes reminding the viewer to rewind before returning, and the worn out boxes from the shelves, there was little chance of mistaking a used movie for a new movie. In the 90s software stores like Funcoland began purchasing used video games from their customers and reselling them as used to other customers who could not afford new games. What they offered for the game depending on the condition of the game and its box. If the cartridge was gooky and the box was long gone, they were not offered that much, and the game was resold for very little money. On the other hand, a gamer who kept his game and box in mint condition and still had the game manual would be offered a lot of money, at least a third of the retail value of the game. The market for used video games soon expanded to CDs and eventually DVDs. Stores like Entertainment Outlet, which sold new factory sealed movies and music, also did brisk business selling used movies and music. Thanks to the eBay culture, people were now keeping their DVDs and CDs in mint condition, knowing that if they needed to sell them at some point they could make more money if these items looked just like they were brand new. But then the inevitable happened. Stores that had DVDs and CDs that looked brand new began selling them as new. It is estimated that millions of used DVDs and Blu-rays are now on store shelves across the country being sold as new. The only hint of them being used would be if the bar code seal is missing. But that is only if the distributor bothered to include a bar code seal to begin with.

Sure, they may look as good as a factory sealed movie. The problem is, used is used. You had something that was opened and touched, and if you can get past that, something that potentially was damaged. Using any disc always leads to the possibility of scratching it. Even a hairline scratch naked to the human eye has the potential of causing any movie to skip or freeze. Often it is when a movie does malfunction when the owner decides to sell it and buy a new one. The stores that buy them back do not have the time to play every movie to search for flaws. But aside from that, there is the problem of someone charging you for new and giving you used, when if you wanted used you would have gone on eBay and bought the same movie for a buck.

#3: The Unauthorized Release

This is very similar to the bootleg, but with one difference. The company releasing this movie claims they have a legal right to do so. Often it comes down to claims that a movie drifted into the public domain. For instance, the version edited for television was copyrighted to the network that edited it. When they no longer had the right to air the film they allowed the copyright on their edit to lapse without renewal. It becomes public domain, even if the film it was edited from is still copyrighted to it's studio. Often foreign films get unauthorized releases because the American distributor who held it's North American distribution rights had gone bankrupt. Once again, there is a claim the film is currently public domain. But most unauthorized movies are released by companies that never bother to check on the copyright status of the film, but simply continue to manufacture the title until they are served with a cease and desist order. Since unauthorized DVDs and Blu-rays are either foreign films, old films or from small independent production companies, the companies that release them count on the real copyright holders not being able to afford to hire lawyers, or at the least not thinking hiring lawyers is worth the trouble. Very often unauthorized releases come from poor quality prints, and usually face the same poor production qualities of the bootlegs. And very often, you can find a legal release of that same movie, in a pristine print on a quality DVD release. The problem is being able to pick out the unauthorized release from the legit release. A lot of stores favor selling the unauthorized releases because they are cheaper

#4: The Third Party Distributor

This is almost the same thing as the unauthorized release, but with a twist. The third party distributor has permission from the copyright holder to release the movie. These are companies that pay for the release rights to films the major studios are no longer interested in releasing on their own label. I do not want to hold all third party distributors under contempt. many are quality labels, such as Shout! Factory. One third party distributor, The Criterion Collection, changed home video for the better. They were one of the first to insist on only releasing pristine original negative or restored prints of movies, were the first to insist on letterboxing wide-screen films, and were the first to include extras such as deleted scenes. They were also among the first companies to include commentary tracks. There were laserdisc releases prior to Criterion, but even the major studio releases were content with just remastering the pan and scan VHS edit, and only use the bonus tracks for foreign language dubs. Criterion did not just release art films and foreign pictures, but current Hollywood releases, sometimes at the same time the studios were releasing the same movie on their own label. It did not take long for the studios to realize that most of their customers wanted what Criterion was offering, and by the time DVD came around it was common practice to release a pristine letterboxed version with all the extras. But with this the studios were no longer interested in allowing third party distributors to have the good stuff, such as any deleted scenes. And so very often, they do not even give the third party distributor access to a pristine print of the movie. Often a third party distributor will be given a lesser quality or edited print. And even more often, no print at all. The third party has to find their own print, be it copied from the television broadcast, or from a worn out theatrical print, or even the third party mastering from the pan and scan VHS release, sometimes dubiously cropping the picture into a letterbox. The major studios do not care of the quality of a third party release, just as long as they get paid their royalties. But for you, what you thought would be the original DVD release with all the extras, could end up being a poor quality copy with no extras, but with the same box cover.

#5: The Import

In the age of internet sales, it is all to often easy to end up buying something that was manufactured in a different country. Even brick and mortar stores have been guilty of stocking their shelves with foreign products. Why? Sometimes it is the foreign countries that release movies on home video long before the same movies are released on home video domestically. Here is a chance for a store to sell a movie up to a year before it gets a home video release in this country. But more often the reasoning is simple. Foreign DVDs and Blu-rays are often much cheaper to buy than domestically produced DVDs and Blu-rays, even after the shipping is factored in. Case in point. Many of the DVDs on the shelves of New York City stores were made in Canada, and meant to be sold in that country. The boxes and content are identical. The only difference is that the Canadian copies are rated using that country's system, and that there is a second set of text in French on the boxes. While Canadian DVDs are acceptable in the U.S., not so with DVDs from other countries. DVDs and Blu-rays are often encoded so that they only play in machines from specific regions. A region 2 DVD will not play in a region 1 DVD player. Further complicating things is that many foreign countries encode their video in PAL, while here in the United States video is encoded in NTSC. PAL encoded DVDs do not play on American television sets, unless you have one of those expensive DVD players that converts PAL to NTSC. And even then the quality is compromised during the live conversion.

#6: The Wrong Version

The major labels love doing this: releasing upgraded editions of DVD and Blu-ray releases. With each new release comes more extras not found on previous releases, and occasionally a better quality print of the movie. And then there are the unrated versions, extended cuts and directors cuts that have a longer or slightly different version of the film. With each new edition released, the previous DVDs and Blu-rays become undesirable. Why would anyone want the lesser edition? You see this on Amazon a lot. You search for a movie and find a handful of different releases. The original releases, the ones with little or no extras, are now priced at a couple of dollars. If all you care about is the movie and do not care for extras, then the bare bones edition is a bargain. But if you are a big fan of the movie then you want the latest release with the most extras and the longest edit. The problem is that there is now tens of thousands of those bare bones editions floating around that no one wants, and stores are eager to get rid of. So many times they will sell them as if they are the latest version, often slipping them on the shelves between copies of the newer edition. This is far easier to pull off while selling films over the internet. You can not read the box over the internet as you can in a brick and mortar store. You have to take the seller's word that the DVD you are purchasing is the latest. How easy it would be to ship that older version they are trying to get rid of instead of the more expensive ultimate edition? The merchants that pull this scam off, both online and the traditional brick and mortar stores, are hoping that you will either not notice, or do not want to go through the trouble of returning the movie. And often, that is the case. Online stores expect you to pay for return shipping, while returning to brick-and-mortar stores requires carfare. And then there is the convincing the merchant that he sold you the wrong version. For many, this is just too much trouble, so they begrudgingly eat the $20 and buy the version they want from a different merchant.

#7: The Recalled Movie

This does not happen that often, but sometimes DVDs and Blu-rays are mass produced before it is discovered they have a mistake. Maybe one of the extras or the movie itself is missing from the menu. Maybe there is a flaw in the movie's encryption that causes it to freeze up, or briefly turn into digital artifacts, or to lose sound, or for the picture to temporarily black out. Sometimes flaws make the movie unplayable on most machines, or chapters inaccessible. Someone was supposed to catch these bugs before the movie was mass produced. Instead the flaw is caught by thousands of angry customers. And there have been other flaws. Sometimes a mistake in the manufacturing process produced an entire run of warped discs. Sometimes the wrong master was mistakenly used, so instead of releasing the digitally restored version, the disc had the old VHS pan-and scan. At lest twice the wrong movie was used as the master, and there was at least one instance where collection of public domain cartoons for kids included a short porn film. Whatever the problem, whenever something is wrong with a DVD or Blu-ray, the company that distributed it orders a recall. The defective discs are pulled from the shelves, returned to the manufacturer who makes sure they are all destroyed, and replaces them with newly pressed flawless discs. But just because there was a recall does not mean all the discs were returned. Thousands of flawed discs are usually still floating around. Worse, sometimes the distributor tasked with destroying the recalled discs decide instead to resell them for cheap to overstock stores.

#8: The Damaged Copy

While recalled movies were damaged while being manufactured, thousands of discs are damaged after they left the factory. Sometimes the warehouse they were stored in caught fire, or was hit by a flood. Whatever the disaster, someone went through that warehouse and decided some of the discs still looked factory fresh, even though they were subjected to water or heat damage, and end up on the shelves of stores. If you ever noticed what looked like moisture inside the factory sealed wrapping, or the box seemed a bit warped, then it is very possible you are looking at a damaged disc. It is actually possible that a disc dug out of the ruins of a disaster is still playable, and maybe you can stand the smell of smoke or mold coming from the box. But it is more likely that no machine will ever play it.

#9: The Cut-outs

In the days of the vinyl album, the record companies had a deal with the stores that sold them. Whenever a record was no longer selling, the stores that sold it could return all the unsold copies as credit to new album releases. Now stuck with thousands of copies of records no longer in the top ten, the record companies would offer to sell them at a discount to any store willing to put them in their budget bin. The record companies did not want these stores selling the records at full retail price, so they punched a large hole in the corner of the cover. These were called cut outs. The practice of selling cut outs continued with CDs. Instead of a punched out hole, the record companies would cut a grove into the spine of the CD case, obliterating the bar code on the paper below. Why would the record companies go to such lengths to mark up their albums? Because they feared that many record stores would deliberately return albums just to buy them back as discount records and then once again sell them a retail prices. Marking the record meant it could no longer be sold as factory new. DVDs and Blu-rays have been sold as cut outs. In their case, it is the bar code on the back of the box which is slashed. Much like with records, these discs are meant to be sold in bargain bins and classified as "used". The problem is that some stores have taken to printing their own bar code sticker which they place over the cut out slash, then sell the disc at the original retail price. Okay, aside from a store selling you a movie for full price when they were suppose to sell you it at a discount price, what it the problem? These movies may be legally "used", but they were never actually opened and played. They are just as good as their factory sealed counterparts. But the problem is that slash mark, which is still there beneath the new bar code. This devalues the disc, which means if you were to ever put it on eBay you cold never get the same money you would for a true factory sealed disc. And why would you want a slashed box? You have, after all, paid for an unleashed box.

#10: The Stolen Copy

Millions of movies are shipped each year, from the factories that produce them, through various distributors, and finally to the shelves of stores. With so many discs being shipped around the country, is it any wonder that very often, shipments go missing. Entire crates disappear from the docks, warehouses and trucks long before they make it to the stores. And is there any wonder that organized crime is behind this? There is a huge black market for stolen DVDs and Blu-rays. Often they turn up on street corners. Those are those street vendors that are somehow able to sell factory sealed movies for less than half the going retail price. But very often stolen movies end up in the supply line of legitimate distributors and onto the shelves of legitimate stores. You may have actually bought a stolen DVD and never realized it. So what is the problem? These are just as good as the other factory sealed discs, right? The problem is that you are now in possession of stolen property. And even if you did pay for it, it legally does not belong to you. Technically, the police could simply remove it from your house and return it to it's rightful owner. While this means nothing to the vast majority of mass produced discs, it could be a problem with collectors discs which come in numbered boxes. Lets say you were to sell one of your Disney collectors tins, and then the potential buyer was to check the tin number with a list of stolen Disney tins, then you could end up being visited by the police, and never seeing a cent for that set. A bigger problem would be those digital DVDs. Each has it's own separate registration number, which would inevitably be listed as stolen. At best, it would mean you have a digital copy that can not be activated. But at the worst, you get a visit from the law, searching through all your stuff to see if you are in possession of any other stolen merchandise. Still, the odds of the police ever finding out you are in possession of a stolen movie, then deciding to do something about it, is very low. What it really comes down to is, do you want to be in possession of stolen merchandise?

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