Regional lockout

Regional lockout

Regional lockout is the programming practice, code, chip, or physical barrier used to prevent the playing of media designed for a device from the country where it is marketed on the version of the same device marketed in another country.

Examples

Video games

*In the video game industry, Nintendo was the originator of regional lockout. Regional lockout in video games is when a piece of hardware is designed such that only software for that region is compatible. Most video games have region encoding.

The main regions are:

* Asia (NTSC-J)
* North America (NTSC U/C)
* Europe and Oceania (PAL, PAL/E)
* China (NTSC-C)

The Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS do not have regional lockout; because of this, import games can be played on those systems. In other words, a Japanese game would work on an American unit, although the game would likely not be in the user's native language and might be different from the product as released in other countries. Many "hardcore gamers" import games, usually from Japan or North America, if the game is released much earlier in that country than in their own, or for other reasons (see Import gamers).

The PSP does have partial regional lockout, and uses the same regions as DVD. As of February 2006, the lockout is only used for UMD movies and not for games, although Sony has hinted it is up to the developers if they want to include region restriction in their games. As of February 2007, copies of Battlezone for the PSP that are released in certain countries are region restricted, however it is unknown if there are other region-restricted PSP games in the market.

The seventh generation of video game consoles all have regional lockout, except Sony's Playstation 3, so games imported from other countries cannot be played on foreign versions of those consoles without some form of alteration to bypass the lockout. However, a number of games for the Xbox 360 have been confirmed as region free and will play on a unit from any region.

Amongst personal computer games, regional lockout is more difficult to enforce because both the game application and the operating system can be easily modified. Subscription-based online games often enforce a regional lock by blocking IP addresses (which can often be circumvented through an open proxy) or by requiring the user to enter a national ID number (which may be impossible to verify). A number of other games using regional lockout are rare but do exist. One of the examples of this is the Windows version of "The Orange Box", which uses Steam content delivery service to enforce the regional lockout. [cite web|url=http://arstechnica.com/journals/thumbs.ars/2007/10/25/valve-locking-out-user-accounts-for-incorrect-territory |title=Valve locking out user accounts for "incorrect territory" |accessdate=2008-03-15 |author=Frank Caron |date=2007-10-25]

DVDs

DVDs are the most visible example of regional lockout. Computer DVD drives come from the factory with RPC (Regional Playback Control), either RPC-1 (older drives) or RPC-2 (newer drives). The difference between the two is that RPC-1 means the player software (outside and separate from the drive) has the responsibility of enforcing the region control, while in RPC-2, it is enforced by the drive's firmware. It means that RPC-1 drives, driven by an appropriate player program, can play DVDs from any region (0-8) while RPC-2 drives play only from a particular region (although the region code can be changed 5 times, after which the code is locked).

The main regions are:
# US and Canada
# West Europe, Japan
# Southeast Asia
# Latin America, Australia
# Russia, India, Africa
# China

Blu-Ray Discs

Blu-ray discs may be encoded with a region code, however this is not mandatory and around two-thirds of all released discs are region free.
# North and South America, India, Southeast Asia, Japan - Region A
# Europe, Middle East, Australia - Region B
# Russia, China - Region C

Australia and the UK

Australia (and as a by-product, New Zealand) and the UK are often targets of Regional Lockouts, as companies find they can charge a much higher price in Australia and the UK than the equivalent cost of a game or DVD in the United States. In Australia, this was originally blamed on a weak Australian Dollar and import costs, but as the Australian Dollar rose, and import costs fell, the majority of companies refused to drop their prices, as they found that the market would tolerate high prices regardless of other concerns.

A major example is in Video Games, which often cost double their equivalent price in the United States. Games often sell for $50 USD in that country, but in Australia games will be sold on release at $100, and in the UK at £45, which is equivalent to $93 US Dollars, twice the cost or higher of the same game in the US.

On Valve software's Steam digital distribution system, THQ have locked out Australian users from buying their games. This is because the cost of Steam games is in US Dollars, and since the resurgence of the AUD to over 0.90c USD, it is not as profitable to sell over Steam as it is to sell at retail. These decisions have been immensely criticised by disgruntled prospective customers.Fact|date=March 2008

An example of this cost difference between retail and steam is Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. On Steam, the price is $29.95 USD, which is equal to $32 Australian Dollars. At retail stores (both online and "brick and mortar" stores) the game retails for approximately $80 AUD, which is equivalent to $75 USD. This difference of over $45 US Dollars ($48 Australian Dollars) has caused THQ to block the sale of the game over Steam to Australia, and as such the game is invisible to an Australian user, either in the steam client or on the steam website. If any attempt is made to purchase the game by using a non-Australian version of the Steam Website, a "territory error" is shown and the game will not be able to be purchased.

Technical design

Regional lockout usually requires hardware manufactured by someone who can be trusted to support the methods chosen. For example, manufacturers need a license to produce DVD players, and game consoles are generally produced by only one company per console. The hardware is typically instructed to play only media designated for a particular region, and that region is then encoded onto the media.

For instance, a Japanese GameCube game disc is encoded with a marking NTSC-J (NTSC Japan), and GameCube consoles from Japan are programmed to only play games with that marking, not PAL or NTSC-M (NTSC US/Canada) game discs.

Legal design

In addition to technical measures, regional lockout schemes may also be supported by national laws. For example, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has a clause that covers "circumventing a scheme used to restrict access to copyrighted material" that may arguably be used to prosecute people who ignore, circumvent, or crack a regional lockout scheme.

In some countries, however, regional restrictions are explicitly discouraged. For example, in Hong Kong parallel imports are expressly allowed, while Australian copyright law permits users to circumvent region locks for media that they otherwise legally own [cite web|url=http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?article_id=48044 |title=Australia: Copyright Amendment Act Strengthens Australia's TPM Laws |accessdate=2008-03-15 |author=Melina Eyre |date=2007-04-30] .

Advantages for producers

* Allows items to be released at different dates in different regions. This is most advantageous in the case of movies, where the costs of localizing and promoting a film make it prohibitively expensive to release in more than one part of the world at a time. Regional lockout theoretically prevents consumers from obtaining the item "ahead of time" by buying the item from a foreign exporter. (For example, buying the DVD of the latest foreign hit movie before the movie has even reached local cinema screens.)
* Allows price differentiation between markets (localisation), thus increasing the potential revenue from worldwide sales and/or making products affordable in markets not tolerating the prices of other regions.
* Allows the correct upstream copyright owner to receive royalties for each copy, where copyright terms or exclusive licensees differ between countries, notably as in the case of "Peter Pan".
* When distribution contracts for each area are awarded to different companies, it allows a company to avoid "stepping on someone else's toes". See Market division.

Criticisms

* It can complicate, or entirely prevent, legitimate enjoyment of works and products which were legally obtained in a different region. (e.g. Purchased while travelling, given/sent as gifts, or brought when moving internationally.)
* It allows items to be launched at different times in different places, so eager customers in some countries must wait for the items to be sold locally instead of importing them sooner.
* Thousands of works are exclusively released to one single region and, if locked, become permanently unattainable by legally-minded consumers, with no monetary benefit even to the media producers.
* It allows price-discrimination, which may be illegal in some countries.
* It presents a barrier to free trade, which may be illegal in some areas such as the European Union. Since the accession of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia there are two regions in the European Union, restricting trade in the bloc. This state of affairs has yet to be challenged in court.
* Allows market control which may violate anti trust laws in some countries.
* Localisation may be unsatisfactory to the consumer for the work. (e.g. Inferior dubbing or voice-acting, mistranslation and misrepresentation of cultural contexts, inferior or less desirable soundtracks, missing features, complete unavailability of the original language, outright censorship, unoriginal format.)
* Regions inevitably isolate some cultures and language groups from others, forbidding the educationally minded from using works from other regions to learn more about that region's languages or cultures.
* Regional lockout may actually promote copyright infringement, software cracking, and modding, as it may make the 'official' version of a product seem less desirable due to the restrictions placed on it.
* The term Fried Gold is often used to refer to the release or substantially greater extras available in one country compared to another, this is often true of cult movies and tv series, or films that have different rights owners in different regions.

Effect on society

Because regional lockout is commonly used to enforce price discrimination (or "price differentiation"), the disparity in the price of an item between different locations encourages consumers to import goods privately.

For both video games and movies, there is a so-called import scene or import community. In many cases, fans and collectors buy Asian or Japanese movies or games from online stores and eBay sellers prior to their release at home. Often these titles are not even scheduled for release overseas (e.g., some anime), or fans want to see and play the titles in their original unaltered form (e.g., uncut or in Japanese).

The largest import communities are the Asian martial arts community, video games community, and the anime community. Because of the number of anime tie-ins produced for video game systems, the latter two communities have a great deal of overlap. For example, "Naruto" and "One Piece" are big hits on DVD, in comics, and on game systems.

Members of import communities usually need a way to circumvent regional locks. In many countries, region free DVD players are available, and there are ways to make game consoles region free via modchips.

In certain regions such as Hong Kong, these technical lockout mechanisms are in conflict with local legislation. The law allows the free sale of imported goods, but technical barriers are put in place by game system and DVD player manufacturers. In Hong Kong, DVD players are usually modified by the distributor and sold region free without extra cost, while buyers of PlayStation or PlayStation 2 consoles have to pay extra for a pre-installed modchip in their game console.

Economic effects

Because of Sony's region lockout for Universal Media Disc (UMD) movies, the Japanese (and die-hard fans with import consoles) have to buy their UMD version of "The Punisher" for about $40 (¥3,990), while the very same film is available in the US for $13.99. It is legal in Japan to import movies and even prohibited by law to restrict imports, but due to region lockout, it is impossible to play a disc from another region without additional technological measures.

From the consumer's point of view, the result is products that could be available more cheaply elsewhere, and being questionable restrictions on what they can and cannot buy (and watch).

From the region lockers' point of view, the result is a higher income, less intra-brand competition (because there is no rivalry or free trade between competing territories), and greater control of price in affected markets. SomeWho|date=September 2008 consider that it strays into the realm of price fixing.

Defeating regional lockout

Video games and consoles

* Most handheld video game systems, including all Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS systems, are made region free. The Sony PlayStation Portable has regional lockout for UMD movies and games (although it is mostly unused for games). The Play-Yan, currently a Japan-exclusive device, can be imported and works on other models.
* Japanese GameCube, Saturn, and Mega Drive consoles can be modified with a simple bridge (jumper) to allow playing of US game discs. Such modifications do not allow the console to play pirated or "backup" games, only legitimate games from another region.
* Boot discs such as the "Freeloader" or the "Utopia boot disc" can be used to start foreign versions of GameCube and Dreamcast games, respectively.
* The NTSC versions of Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and the Nintendo 64 all have simple pin-based lockout schemes that are easily converted with a third-party device. In the case of the SNES and N64, plastic tabs which block insertion of Japanese games into North American consoles can be snipped away with a set of pliers.
* Devices like regional converters are used to bypass regional lockout without circumventing copy protection.
* A game console could be imported from the correct region to play imported, region-encoded games. This approach would likely require voltage and/or video converters to prevent damage to the system, and for the video to display correctly. Sony however has banned the import of foreign Playstation 3's into the European UnionFact|date=September 2008.
* Console emulators can ignore region-control hardware, even when emulating consoles that originally had regional lockout, since some consoles use different BIOS ROMs depending on region.
* A number of Xbox and Xbox 360 games which have multiple voice acting soundtracks recorded have been released region free.
* All games available for the PlayStation 3 are region free, however backward compatibility modes (ie. PlayStation 1 and 2 games) are region locked. Blu-ray Disc and DVD region codes are also enforced. [http://www.gamespot.com/pages/profile/show_blog_entry.php?topic_id=m-100-24746743&user=James_Yu]

DVD

* A DVD player could be imported from another region, although it would most likely require a power adaptor.
* Most DVD player models have a unique region defeating unlock code that can be tapped into its remote control to make it region-free, allowing the owner to watch DVDs bought from anywhere in the world. Comprehensive information on doing this can be found on the Internet; see the external links section of DVD region code for links.
* DVD computer drives can usually have their firmware reflashed for less-stringent regional control (i.e, RPC-1 instead of RPC-2). Replacement firmware can be downloaded from the [http://www.rpc1.org/ RPC-1 firmware site] . Certain computer drives don't even need to be reflashed, instead a program to issue a disable, reset or switch code to the drive is sufficient.
* Region codes can be removed from the DVD using software such as DVD Decrypter to copy it without copying the region lockout flags, creating an all-region DVD. Such software can usually remove Macrovision, Content Scrambling System (CSS) and disabled user operations (UOPs) as well.

Blu-Ray Discs

* AnyDVD bypasses regional lockout for BD discs, for BD-ROM/R/RE computer drives, since version 6.4.0.0.
* Like their DVD counterparts, BD players can be imported from another region.

ee also

* NTSC
* NTSC-J
* NTSC U/C
* PAL

* Regional converter
* Copyright misuse
* DVD region code
* Fan translation
* Fritz-chip
* Modchip
* Parallel import

References


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