I have unwittingly contributed to the massive problem of DVD piracy.

I didn’t mean to, but I did. When Father’s Day rolled around, Jan asked if I had any hints for a potential gift from Samuel. Being well-stocked with neckties and in need of encouragement to spend more time on my elliptical trainer, I asked for a set of DVDs I’d seen advertised on the Internet. Having recently sweated through the impressive Planet Earth and Blue Planet series, along with an intriguing collection of NASA public relations films about the space program,
I was looking for something a little lighter, so I asked for an old favorite: “The Muppet Show,” which aired from 1976-81.

So, I sent Jan a link to the set I had seen at “The TVDVD Store,” which advertises on Google (the image at right is from the ad, which promised all five seasons on 10 DVDs, promising “Excellent Video and Audio Quality” and “Custom Artwork” in a boxed set in “100% chronological order”). The price was lower than some other Muppet Show collections I had seen, but I figured it probably just had fewer special features. If the company advertises on Google, I thought, they must be legit.

Silly me.

Jan ordered the set, and later commented that it seemed to be late in arriving.

That’s because, as it turns out, the DVDs are dubbed on demand by a bootleger, then shipped directly to the buyer. When we received an unexpected package from an unknown individual in China, I opened it with great care — though if it had been a bomb it would have just taken a little longer to get blown up.

Inside was my set of DVDs, 10 disks in unmarked paper sleeves, stuffed inside a cheap plastic box that had been broken in shipping (image at right). The artwork in the plastic sleeve appears to have come from a printer that was running out of ink.

Most of the discs offer a primitive menu, but what’s on the menu and what’s on the disc don’t always coincide. A number of the tracks won’t play, and those that do are very uneven in terms of video and audio quality. One of them contained only a “Muppet Babies” cartoon.

It didn’t take long to realize that we’d unwittingly done business with a pirate. If all the other hints were not sufficient, the Disney Channel logo in the bottom corner of the screen made it clear that someone had recorded the shows from a cable or satellite channel and was selling copies of them. Logos from other networks unknown to me appear on some of the tracks.

Looking back at the retailer’s website, I dug a little bit and found this notice:

Please note: All our DVD Sets are SPECIAL ORDER Items and are only purchased directly from the Supplier AFTER you place your order which allows us to offer such fantastic low prices. This is also the reason your order takes 10-14 days to arrive. We appreciate your patience and cooperation.

“Special order” — right. You order the set, the company sends the pirate a fraction of your money, and two weeks later a fresh set of bootleg videos arrives on the Orient Express.

So, there it is: I’m an accessory to piracy, bamboozled by a bootlegger, conned by a crook.

Video and music piracy are not only economic issues for legitimate copyright holders, but also an ethical and moral matter for those who support it. I don’t knowingly support the practice, and will make an effort not to be so gullible next time. On the Internet, things are always subject to being other than they seem, but I’ll at least watch out for the “Special Order” notice.

Customer beware, or support a pirate unawares.

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