Obama's diplomatic gift to UK leader fubared by DRM

Mike sez, "Last month's visit to Washington DC saw the usual exchange of diplomatic gifts - Gordon Brown gave President Obama a pen holder carver from the timbers of a ship involved in the fight against slavery. In exchange, he was given a box set of 25 classic American movies. On DVD. According to the Telegraph, the leader of a government committed to stronger IP laws sat down recently to watch his new present and... ...they're Region 1 DVDs. Would it be terribly wrong to tell Gordon Brown how to break CSS?"
A Downing Street spokesman said he was "confident" that any gift Obama gave Brown would have been "well thought through," but referred me to the White House for assistance on the "technical aspects".

A White House spokesman sniggered when I put the story to him and he was still looking into the matter when my deadline came last night.

Gordon Brown is frustrated by 'Psycho' in No 10


  1. Region 1 DVDs as a gift for the leader of a Region 2 country: diplomatic and technical fail.

  2. Perhaps the gift was “well thought through” and this was the President’s way of making a point…

    Unlikely, but one can hope. (We’re still allowed hope, right?)

  3. It’s easy to buy multi-region DVD players in the UK (Amazon sells them, for example), and it’s easy to get the codes to make most DVD players region free. It’s legal, too.

  4. This whole story is like something out of a sitcom. Some White House staffer, new in the job, must have had about half an hour’s warning:

    What? They’re supposed to exchange gifts!! Crap, crap, crap!! What the hell is that for?! Shit, nevermind, just go to the store down the street and get . . . something — anything!! No wait, it’s gotta be “American.” Get a crapload of hot dogs or something!! No, shitshitshit, it can’t be food. Go get — videos!! Movies are American! Except the foreign ones. But most of them are American! I don’t know if they have blue ray in England, so just get regular DVDs. Grab a whole bunch of them and get back as soon as you can!

  5. Cory, you have poisoned my thinking! This was the first thing I thought of when I saw it on the news!

  6. Yeah – you can get codes to convert your UK DVD player to play any region. It’s just a matter of googling the make and model.

    The horrible disparity in thought, care and significance of the two gifts was one of the funniest and most depressing things I have heard this year.

    I mean, Gordon Brown’s gift was fucking AWESOME. I mean, whattagift! Jeez.

    But fucking DVDS? I think we should start hanging out with Iran instead.

  7. TW15, not legal everywhere, and not legal for much longer if current copyright proposals are passed.

  8. #4 and #6: Maybe the 10 Downing Street staff don’t know that… Memo to Brown: hire more geeks.

  9. The DVD-CCA license for the CSS keys actually prohibits manufacturing Region 0 players, and also prohibits making players that can be de-regionalized. That this term in the contract is not enforced is a really interesting fact, and I’ve heard a number of different explanations for it, but the most compelling one was this:

    When cheapie region 0 Asian players hit the market, the CCA was actually too poor to sue (they didn’t charge much for licenses and had no war-chest; something the studios rectified with BluRay). Thus the market for region 0 players proliferated, spreading from Asia to Europe to the US. As these players increased in popularity, name-brand vendors like Sony (who, in its capacity as a film studio was actually a member of the CCA as well) were lured into making readily de-regionalized players, because no one was buying their devices without a region-free option. At that point, the CCA realized that it couldn’t sue Matsushita, Sony, Phillips, Zenith, etc, and so it gave up (and plotted BluRay).

    But the contract language is still in there, with very stiff fines for signatories who make these devices.

    Note that the EUCD and the DMCA both ban “circumvention” — (arguably) even when that circumvention takes the form of flashing your firmware or otherwise activating a hidden region-fee feature in your device.

  10. I’ve been very amused by how not amused the Brits have been about the presents that Gordon Brown brought home.

    It’s like fanboys at comic-con comparing swag.

  11. When we saw this on the Daily Show, my roommate an my first thought was, “Wouldn’t it be funny if they were region 1 dvds?” And then we laughed.

  12. I think one could really read into the symbolism of the gifts given.

    But overall… they couldn’t think of something better to give than DVDs? WTF? Hopefully it makes the leaders aware what region locking is…

    I think it would have been really funny if he gave him a bunch of DRM laden MP3s or something… then when he tried to play them the DRM server was shutdown…

  13. Yes, Jon Stewart gave Obama a good ribbing for that little diplomatic faux pas this week, along with a joke about Obama acting like Macaulay Culkin by hosting two private concerts in the White House within a couple days of each other.

    And people were worried that The Daily Show wouldn’t have any good material just because the new president isn’t a complete idiot.

  14. The gift itself (outside of the Region 1 issue) really does say a lot about the contrast between America and the UK, does it not? They give us something old, steeped in history and significance, we give them something that’s cheaply made from plastic, and is only relatively technologically advanced.

    Also, in this post’s subject: obscene misuse of the term ‘fubar.’ I’m sure the inadequate gift is still recognizable as an inadequate gift.

  15. as a yank what moved to the UK.. well you know how I feel about regional coding, then. punished for being a law abiding citizen. ..aaaannnnnnd region coding doesn’t hinder the dudes coming in pubs with satchels mumbling “dvd….dvd…dvd…”

  16. It’s easy to break CSS:

    Just go to View > Page Style > No Style.

    Aside from the region faux pas, I can see people comparing the gifts badly. But aren’t movies a meaningful art form? I don’t see much of a problem with it. Just because you don’t give an antique doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful.

  17. Always thought region coding was idiotic- it assumes the main way of transporting pirated dvds was physical which has never been the case. should be done away with as useless.

  18. Baldhead, region coding wasn’t intended as an anti-piracy measure, it was intended to prevent, for instance, retailers selling lower-priced excess inventory from one region in another. It was about controlling the channel, not anti-piracy.

    Which is a whole lot slimier, actually.

  19. I’m all for Obama, but that was a really embarrassing rookie mistake on his staff’s part. To make up for it, shouldn’t he order Delta Force to air drop Stevie Wonder into 10 Downing?

  20. Also its not just an anti-slavery ship either. It is the sister ship of the HMS Resolute… which makes the gift that much more badass. (the president’s desk is made from the Resolute)


    That whole episode was pretty embarrassing and I really hope that someone canned the guy from the state dept. that was quoted saying that the UK was no more important to us than the other 190 nations.

  21. @ fracturedguy #21:

    …obscene misuse of the term ‘fubar.’ I’m sure the inadequate gift is still recognizable as an inadequate gift.

    Sounds like you need to read up on your FUBAR.

  22. I believe it was NPR’s “wait wait…” crew that mentioned the gift from Mrs. Obama to the Brown children (a model of Marine One) was very obviously from the White House Gift Shop.

  23. #27 posted by W. James Au Author:

    I think Stevie Wonder’s mangled corpse in the Pillared Room, along with the roof and floor damage caused by the piano, would be much worse than the DVD incident.

  24. #5 posted by Machineintheghost

    This whole story is like something out of a sitcom. Some White House staffer, new in the job, must have had about half an hour’s warning:

    Actually, from the Daily Mail:

    But the Mail has learned it included classics such as Star Wars, The Godfather and Citizen Kane and was produced by the American Film Institute as a ‘special request’ for the White House last month.

    This was the result of considered action.

  25. I’m sorry to say the region issue was the first thing I thought of when I read about the awful gift, and then I assumed our government was too smart for that. Shame on me.

  26. I’m scratching my head over this one. I’m British and keep an eye on the news but don’t buy a paper every day. I saw it mentioned briefly on news.bbc.co.uk in a jokey article and think I heard a mention of it on one of the TV broadcasts but, really, the only people I’ve heard taking it seriously are the American news sources that I keep an eye on.

    Lots of people are laughing or worried about how angry we Brits are about it, but I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t care. Did one of the big tabloids (I’d guess Daily Hate, maybe the Sun?) get all angry about it for a day or two when I wasn’t looking? Remember that people being outraged and the red-tops telling people that they’re outraged are very different things ;).

    I’ve actually seen many more British sources laughing about the “Overload” switch that Clinton recently gave Putin. Is “gag gifts” going to be the theme of this administration? I really hope so: Watching Brown follow Obama into a bad comedy trope will be much more fun than watching Blair following Bush into a bad war.

  27. Maybe Obama’s office secretly tech savy, and they’re blanks that they light-scribed a the last minute. They saved the US govt a few hundred and made a poignant “accidental” statement about the idiocy of DRM without pissing off his Hollywood media donor constituency.

  28. I delight in imagining the mid-level White House staffer that thought it was “cool” or “neat” to give a modern gift that speaks to American values, only to realize that this was the first gift of state ever wrapped in cellophane with anti-theft devices included.

    Gob-smacked doesn’t begin to describe how I imagine their reaction.

    I wonder if any had big “New Low Price” or “Nice Price” stickers on them, revealing them to be from the closeout bin at the nearest Best Buy in D.C.?

  29. Here’s a tip for the Obama/Clinton State Department:

    If you find yourself considering including a gift receipt with the gift, you might want to re-think the gift.

  30. #30 wolfwitch, Beyond the region issues, won’t there also be issues with NTSC vs. PAL?

    Yes. Well, kind of no. Nearly every PAL device will play NTSC media. But the reverse is not true. Nearly all NTSC devices will not play PAL media.

  31. What an EMBARASSMENT. Idiocy, ignorance, total lack of manners or any sense of statesmanship.

  32. Aww come on, everyone is forgetting that handing the PResident a pen made from the sister ship to the resolute is next to meaningless. these little gift exchanegs don’t mean anythung because once the PResident leaves office the tiems are taken by the Smithsonian or whatever and boxed up with the Ark of the covenant. I get the image of Barack being shown the pen which is set on a velvet pillow, then whisked away before he can touch it and locked in a vault with all the jewels, models and trinkets world leaders have been depositing in America for safe keeping.

  33. gifts from other heads of state are meant to be graciously received with gloved hands by a subordinate, and then placed unexamined in germ proof, hermetically sealed vaults until they can be incinerated. Where were these people raised?

  34. I thought -everybody- in the UK had Region 0 DVD players.. even the PM ought to have one(!)

    Sending a Region 1 DVD to the UK isn’t a ‘technical fail’; having a region-restricted player in the UK is a technical fail.

  35. Really – a hand-made pen holder carved from a historical artifact…and in return he gets a bunch of DVDs? Does Obama think that, unlike everyone else on the planet, Brown hasn’t seen most of the American “classic” movies before? (I’ll laugh my arse off one of the movies was “The Third Man”).

    Can’t wait to see what our PM gets, if anything: “The people of Australia are proud to present with this handmade didgeridoo, Drizabone and Akubra.”

    “And the people of America are proud to present you with this $30 Borders gift card – good for books only, not magazines.”

  36. It is Gordon Brown, no-one likes him do they? The British shouldn’t care.

    And if I were a US citizen I’d be freaking about the disparity in the gifts. DVDs? WTF? Mr Brown is total class in this story, which is not a great look for Obama. Again… DVDs! WTF!

  37. The region problem is hilarious, but another issue occurs to me and I haven’t seen anyone else mention it.
    Obama is a Head of _State_ as well as head of government. Brown is only a head of government.
    (Jon Stewart mistakenly called Brown a visiting Head of State, actually)
    Maybe, diplomatically speaking, Obama could “expect” a better gift from Brown? And perhaps to go overboard with a gift for a “mere” head of government would be a faux pas? Maybe Queen Elizabeth could expect something from a museum?
    Anyone got any ideas?
    (I bet even if this is the case it can’t account for the very large disparity in the pressies..)

  38. Two problems: Region coding, and PAL/NTSC. If he pops those discs in his laptop and fires up VLC, it’ll work fine. Or, if he’s a Machead like Obama, he can just change the region coding on DVD Player and be off.

    Still, I think it’s a cheesy gift. However, one could have said that the pen was a bit of a dig as well- “Oh hey, remember how we outlawed slavery so much earlier than you did? Here’s a memento to keep that fresh in your mind!”

    I’d be interested to know whether it was in fact the region coding or the video format that actually caused the FAIL.

  39. Antinous: Mr Brown would mistake it as a tale where the villains win, and a generally charming vision of Statehood derailed.

    Freetardzero: Having had crappy NTSC woes for half my life, I can happily report that technology has overcome that incompatibility. NTSC’s crappy frame rate can’t hurt me anyone… unless a distributor decides to just sped it up to hit the 29 fps required for PAL. Then you have extra-nasal Seinfeld. I shit you not.

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