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What An Amazing DVD Set For The ALF Fan!

September 23rd, 2010

So, my good friend Dave L. and I were chatting about the late ’70s TV series Project U.F.O., the first episode of which he’d just reviewed. I looked up its Wikipedia entry, and was surprised to see that the series had been released on DVD. I thought, “That seems unlikely.” It was the rare ’70s sci-fi series that I didn’t watch, partially because it was a show about aliens in which the aliens always turned out to be swamp gas, and partially because it was as exciting as watching unidentified flying paint dry.

I clicked on the link and was taken to Epic DVD Store, a website which proclaims “All your favorites TV shows on DVD.” As I examined the entry for the Project U.F.O. Complete TV Series, it occurred to me that it was just possible this was not a licensed boxed set. Maybe it was the block letter title font. Or the black-and-white cover photo. Or perhaps the region-free coding. I don’t know, something said that this was not quite legit.

Looking further, I found a wealth of TV series old and new. Some of them I’d never even heard of, and that’s saying something. Circus Boy? There was a show called Circus Boy?!?

There were a fair number of vintage and/or short-run series, but quite a bit that was recent, and–more to the point–commercially available. You can get the complete run of Babylon 5 for $94.95, about 2/3 of what you’d pay for the real thing at Barnes & Noble. I wonder how many people rabid enough to actually want to suffer through all five seasons of Babylon 5*–even seasons 1 and 5–wouldn’t plunk down the extra 50 bucks for high-quality DVDs?

I took a look at the site’s F.A.Q.

“Some of these DVD’s haven’t even been released yet.  How is it possible that you sell them?

There is a section of the American copyright law known as ‘The Berne Act’ that Clearly states: films unreleased in the United States, including original versions of films altered and/or edited for release in the United States, are NOT protected by American copyright; thus, they are considered public domain. The entire purpose of our website is to provide otherwise unavailable films or television shows to the serious collector.”

Okay, that’s utter horseshit. I mean, sure, it’s not like I expect bootleggers to care about a correct legal interpretation of what constitutes a public domain work, but that’s not even close to a plausible argument. And it does nothing to explain the boxed set of Firefly for $39.95. Which is for sale. Everywhere. For about half that price on a good day.

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually mind bootleggers all that much when they’re selling shows that–if not actually public domain–are truly unavailable through commercial means. If someone thinks that they can get 20 bucks for a tenth-generation copy of Legends of the Superheroes, I say go for it. I think that it behooves copyright holders to get off the stick and make their content available through legal means; either meet the demand or quit your bitching.** But bootlegs of Charles in Charge? I do not think so.

A couple of the items for sale call for special attention. First up was a complete set of Doctor Who. Which series? Why, all of it! “Every memorable episode” on 193 DVDs.

193 DVDs.

193 DVDs.

Best of all was the copy-and-paste fail that resulted in this promotional copy:

“What an amazing DVD Set for the Alf Fan!”

Yes, what would the discerning ALF fan want more than a 193 DVD boxed set of Doctor Who?

Okay, I know that’s just a simple error, but then I saw this. It’s a complete set of the early ’60s courtroom drama The Defenders. So far, so good. But take a look at the box art.

Yes, that’s the cover from the Marvel comic book The Defenders. So, not a TV show in which “a recent law school graduate (Robert Reed) joins his father (E.G. Marshall) as the pair tackle challenging legal cases.” Though I have to say, if it really starred Robert Reed as Namor the Sub-Mariner and E.G. Marshall as Dr. Strange–with Joan Hackett as Valkyrie–tackling legal cases, challenging or otherwise, I would watch the hell out of it.

“What an amazing DVD Set for the Defenders Fan!”

*Yes, I said it.

**This opinion does not reflect the views of my employer or the Public Broadcasting Service. It should not be in any way be mistaken for an actual legal argument, or a suggestion that you go out and break the law. So say we all.

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