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Acoustics of Finland AE-2X
Dolby Digital
Letter to Boston Audio Society re DVDs and Regions

(in Finnish/Suomeksi)

Telarc/Decca CD's
Home Theater
DVD 5.1 Films
Nordic Press

(tämä sivu suomeksi)

From September 2001 HiFi Lehti/Finland

(For Part I/Osa I - click here)

DVD Players and "Guarantees"

'Meeting reasonable expectations' -- this concept is the basis of recent consumer legislation throughout the Western world -- and has been a foundation of Finnish law for many years.

Thus, when one purchases a DVD player, the principle of the English common law's 'Reasonable Man' should certainly apply. Let's say your friend from New York brings a DVD disk with a recent movie to Finland. You invite him over, make popcorn and sit down to watch and instead get greeted by a screen telling that this disk cannot be played as it is from a 'different region.' No 'reasonable' person would consider this proper - especially when they find out that this rejection has been totally contrived and is not attributable to any inherent technical differences between the USA and Finland.

A recent discussion with Erik Mickwitz (Finnish Consumer Ombudsman),gives some credence to the fact that such artificial tampering with DVD codes by manufacturers, may not only be in violation of the 'reasonable expectations' concept but also in conflict with the legal foundations of 'free trade,' particularly in the EU. There are supposedly some challenges to 'region coding' originating in various countries - and may actually be illegal in some anyhow.

But, as many know, it is possible to modify most DVD players - via codes given through the remote control unit or an IC chip added to the 'code' circuitry. Probably to mollify the movie studios, DVD manufacturers have tried to convince the consumer that a defective DVD player will not be repaired without charge if it is found that the DVD player will play different region DVD disks than what were intended by the manufacturer. One manufacturer even told me that changing the code system by the remotecontrol was already enough to void any guarantee!

It should be said at this point that a 'guarantee,' according to Finnish law, is only an extra benefit to the consumer making it easier for the consumer to return goods for repair, replacement or refund (if repair or replacement not possible). Finnish law states that the liability for products with manufacturing defects is WITHOUT any time limit! For example, if your car has a leaky clutch gasket that the automobile industry is normally expecting to last a lifetime or at least hundreds of thousands of kilometres and this leak happens in four years -- one year after the 'guarantee' of three years - you have a good chance of making a case that it should be repaired without charge if you have only driven 70-80,000 kilometers.

In any case, it is completely against all technical understanding that the playing of a Humphrey Bogart DVD from New York was the reason that the laser pick-up didn't work or the disk motor burned. The manufacturer should have to show that quite explicitly if they think so. Indeed, the modification of ANY product, that the manufacturer cannot show has been the cause of a defect, is perfectly acceptable. For example, people have been told that if they open their computer and add extra memory that failure of their hard disk will not, a priori, be handled as a manufacturing defect.

This, according to Erik Mickwitz and the Finnish Consumer Protection Agency, is completely wrong. The manufacturer must prove the relationship between the modification and the fault. Mr. Mickwitz said that the Kuluttajavirasto is looking for a clear case where a manufacturer has refused to repair or replace a product without charge and used the excuse that a consumer has modified something that, technically, would have no possibility of affecting the defective part. It is also thought that this threat by manufacturers to void their guarantees because of modifications is, in and of itself, illegal.

Even though consumer legislation is very strong in Finland, the burden on the consumer to wade through the bureaucracy and legal conflicts is oppressive and intimidating. Good behavior by manufacturers and importers would be much more likely if Finland had class-action legal processes where a group of consumers could file suit together and share the costs and difficulties that any law action brings. Sweden is now proposing permissive legislation to allow class-action suits and the future for Finland and the EU may be brighter in this regard.

Meanwhile, consumers should continue to be diligent and speak out for their rights. At the same time manufacturers and importers should realize that new technologies such as DVD require creating confidence on the market that a reliable and useable product is offered and should definitely re-think if they want to look so very foolish when they use 'guarantee' issues to threaten people not to modify their DVD's to play W.C. Fields movies that will probably never be put onto the European market. And, of course, the whole industry should reconsider the very ridiculous system of artificial region codes anyway - DVD is a really fine technology that is theoretically universally useable and should be in practice, too.

(For Part I/Osa I - click here)

If you have any additions, suggestions, rebuttals, etc. I would be glad to hear from you. 

Dr. Robert F. Woods

Sound Center Inc.

Yrjönkatu 8

00120 Helsinki




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