MovieSwap

I check Kickstarter every day. I often back projects in the tabletop and tech areas, but I also will check to see what projects are popular on the site each week. The other day I came across a project called MovieSwap, which has already met its funding goal on the crowdfunding website. So what is it?

The French company that is developing the service claims that “MovieSwap is the first universal movie library, totally powered by the crowd, to watch and swap films without constraints.”

What if you had an unlimited access to the LARGEST ONLINE MOVIE LIBRARY EVER? A community based library, where you could watch any movie online. A library where you could swap films with contributors all over the world and discover an infinite number of stories. This is the revolutionary idea behind MovieSwap.

But how can a service that allows subscribers to watch any movie online be legal? Is it legal?

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Here is how MovieSwap claims to work: Users mail their DVDs to MovieSwap, where the company will register them on behalf of their owners and put the films into the cloud. The DVDs will be stored in the MovieSwap warehouses, and the users can remotely play them on any device across their personal libraries. So far this sounds like UltraViolet, which you probably know as one of the most annoying things to use, or as a cloud-based digital rights locker for movies and television shows. Anyways, that much seems legal.

Where MovieSwap attempts to change things is that users in the service can legally lend, swap, or offer a DVD to a friend through its remote playback technology which would also give the “full DVD experience including bonuses, deleted scenes, director’s commentaries, and other unique features not available when streaming videos online.” The company claims that because each member is contributing movies in some way, “this process ensures that users are always swapping one DVD for another, thus making the process legal.” The streaming service will be available on PC, Mac, Android tablets and on TV thanks to a HDMI SwapStick.

So imagine a Netflix-style interface that allows you to watch any of the DVDs in this collective collection (assuming that rights managed copy isn’t currently being watched by another user). It almost sounds too good to be true, because if enough people use the service, as a subscriber you’d have access to watch any movie ever on demand. And they claim to have 200,000 DVDs in their library already.

A lot of local libraries offer physical movie libraries, but what if you could watch any movie you want, any time you want, wherever you want for one subscription fee? Sounds like an awesome idea, and a great deal, but it also sounds like the sort of thing that would cost the movie studios a lot of potential income.

So is it legal? We don’t know for sure. MovieSwap claims it is, and their reasoning may be hard to argue with… but something just smells fishy.

Variety talked to an exec at a large studio who claims that the service is “not in any way authorized to either rip or stream our content.” The MPAA declined to comment to the trade paper and no one will go on the record and say it’s illegal. As the trade paper notes, their might be a precedent against this kind of service, as in 2000 a bunch of major music labels sued MP3.com over its service that let users stream songs over the Internet after registering their CDs. MP3.com reportedly eventually settled with the record companies.

And things get a little more complicated in how users subscribe or participate in the service. Users choose to either contribute money to receive some DVDs in their digital library, or send in their physical DVD collections in exchange for monthly credits for the service.

When you create your MovieSwap account, a first DVD will be provided for you: it allows you to swap in the huge MovieSwap library. You can also send us your own DVDs. The more you send the more benefits you get. For example if you suscribe to the DVD GIVER Pack On Kickstarter and send us 50 DVDs or more, you will receive a free HDMI Slapstick. … Every DVD you send us will be locked at first and therefore won’t be available to other users. Only if you want to, you can unlock them, free them: you will then allow the MovieSwap library to grow and you’ll get some exclusive benefits like the acquisition of rare and new films.

MovieSwap currently has raised $42,715 from 1,754 backers (over their initial goal of $38,464) with 35 days to go. What do you think? Is this legal? Would you participate in a service like MovieSwap?

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