Whether you’re a supporter or opponent of “cancel culture” or you agree or disagree with the social and political climate in the year 2020 — things are changing quickly with regards to the availability and integrity of film and television. If we don’t act soon, we may not be able to preserve our legacy at all.
If you’ve been follow the news the past few months, you’ve undoubtedly noted that movies and TV shows are being censored or even outright removed from streaming services.
Why Is This Happening?
In some cases, it is due to the nature and values of the streaming service.
Disney+ decided to censor the partial nudity of Darryl Hannah in Splash! and has even taken measures to remove the infamous “sfx” easter egg word from the starscape in a scene of The Lion King (because some people see the word “sex” instead).
The current social climate is driving the removal of other content.
The 1939 film classic Gone With The Wind for it’s portrayal of slavery — previously offered by the streaming service HBO Max — was removed by the provider (driving up the prices online for the physical media copies). It did later return to the service featuring an educational lecture about the film preceding it.
The HBO service also removed (and apparently even attempted to hide) the removal of five episodes of the animated show South Park, due to its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
How Widespread Is This?
This culling is accelerating and expanding.
For example, the Hulu streaming service has removed an episode of the classic television show The Golden Girls due to cast members wearing a mud mask and in a moment of “confusion”, are assuring other characters they are not black.
The Golden Girls is joined by many other shows that are having full episodes removed from streaming services; Community, 30 Rock, The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Scrubs and many others. The show’s era, type or even popularity doesn’t seem to matter.
The streaming service itself doesn’t seem to matter, either.
Along with the aforementioned HBO Max, Hulu and Disney+ we need to acknowledge that media provider giant Netflix has also taken a broad censorship stroke in the edits to Back to the Future 2. CBS All Access has censored The Good Fight.
The issue is real. The reasoning behind it is unimportant and isn’t going away (although the reasoning will likely change).
We’re Losing Content
Whether the content mentioned above is concerning to you or not, it is entirely possible that at some point (probably in the very near future) these removals and alterations will end up impacting you and something you do care about.
Over time, edits and modifications can become canon. For some, it doesn’t matter who shot first; Han or Greedo. For others? The entire tone of the film and character were changed by this one little alteration.
At this point, you would be hard pressed to find a legitimate copy of Star Wars where Han Solo shot first; unless you found a copy on VHS at a thrift store, perhaps.
Along with the reasoning behind the removal being unimportant, the reasoning for wanting to preserve and protect this content is equally unimportant. You don’t have to be a racist to want a copy of Song of the South. Seeing Darryl Hannah’s cleavage in Splash! doesn’t make you a pervert.
Preservation isn’t about judgement.
Sometimes it is about nostalgia and fond memories. Maybe you remember Splash Mountain fondly from when you rode it back when it was still featuring Brier Rabbit and Brier Fox and not Princess and the Frog.
Oh, and you don’t learn from past by erasing it.
Start Preserving Right Now
So, we know there is an issue. We know it isn’t going to go away — in fact, we have it on Good Authority(tm) that it is going to get worse. It is time to get busy and start salvaging your history of film and TV before it goes away or is altered beyond recognition.
But what can you do?
We already know that physical media is the only real way to truly own something that can’t be taken away from you by flipping a bit off in some database somewhere.
But not everything is available on physical media. Some things are only available streaming. Some things are only available in high quality format on streaming — such as Seth McFarland’s space vehicle The Orville. Only available on low definition DVD to “own” but available streaming in HD.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it? But this is sort of a war … and war isn’t fair.
Self-Preservation of Purchases
“Digital purchases” is an oxymoron. We know this. Anything that is digital, that you cannot download and play without internet activation or authentication is not true ownership. Those rights can be revoked at any time and that content can be altered or removed at any time.
Self-Preservation is going to start sounding a lot like “piracy”. Unfortunately, it isn’t too far off base. But as I said, this is a war. We do things in wartime we wouldn’t normally do.
I do not condone piracy. Not for profit, not for distribution. This is about preservation and the rights of “a backup”. Laws vary from country to country and the responsibility of knowing the law is yours.
If you “purchased” digital content, your conscience should be clear. You paid. This isn’t a “rental” or “all you can eat streaming as long as you pay”.
If you want to preserve your digital copies, you’re going to need to make a copy of that content locally to your own computer. At that point, they can no longer dictate whether you can watch it. They cannot remove breasts or butts or mud face masks.
The content is as close to true ownership that you can get.
To do this, you have a few options. We aren’t going to go into great details, but you could use screen recording software to capture the content while it is playing. Tools like Audials 2020 make short work of this and produces a great quality copy to preserve.
This is the easiest way to preserve digital content and it isn’t “cracking” any copy protection so it isn’t considered illegal as is.
If you have a capture card like the El Gato series, you can connect a laptop or other computer with a de-protection device that removes High-Definition Digital Copy Protection (HDCP). Since these are considered illegal in many countries, you may have to do some hunting around to get your hands on one. I’ll give a clue that “splitters” sometimes feature this functionality.
Once you have this set up, you can simply use the capture card’s software to record the content.
Just think. Next time your internet goes out? You have content you can watch without any sign in or connection. Makes you a bit warm and fuzzy, right?
Preservation of Preservation
So you’ve identified what you feel you need to preserve and protect. You’ve acquired the tools and hardware to perform this duty.
You are gathering all the content you want to preserve. Fortunately, you no longer have stacks of discs and cases taking up room in your home but your hard drive is filling up quickly with all this content.
How do you preserve your digitally preserved, non-DRM, playable on any device video files you’ve captured?
That’s the best part. You’re in control. How do YOU want to preserve them?
You might still have a DVD or Blu ray burner kicking around the house somewhere — probably in the old PC you passed down to your kids. Blank media is pretty cheap these days — and thanks to advances in video compression? You can put a lot more content on these discs than the format originally supported; at pennies per gigabyte.
You may even have a disc player for your TV you packed away since you bought that Roku — and it might play “loose” files burned to discs.
Since these are for archival purposes, you can seal them up and pop them in a nice storage container somewhere; relying on your digital purchases until such time as they stop working or get censored. After all, that’s why we started this.
Physical storage like 8TB external hard drives are cheaper than ever now. You can store hundreds of movies and TV shows on that drive. Only plug it in when you need to and that drive will last a good long time (might even outlive your discs).
You could store these files in the cloud too — but be wary. The reason you brought copies down locally was to preserve and protect. Cloud services are volatile too; they could go down, go out of business or maybe even decide that they don’t like the content you’re storing there anymore.
The Plex Connection
You may also find that instead of storing these files away, you want easier and unrestricted access to them. Perhaps you still have a modest physical media library. You could rip those movies off disc and put them with your streaming backups.
Using something like Plex Media Server and an old computer you may have laying around — you could set up your own “mini-Netflix” filled with your own rips; even home videos and photos you’ve shot yourself.
Plex is available in any web browser and pretty much on any phone, tablet or set top box. It is even built into some TVs!
Now you can enjoy your collection anywhere, anytime without any sort of monthly fees; even perform mobile sync of these videos for your next flight or long business trip.
If you don’t own it on a disc or it isn’t sitting on your hard drive in a deprotected, no-authentication-required state — that content is at risk for disappearing; either entirely or by nature of censorship.
Acquiring and/or preserving is the only way to guarantee what you have today is what you have tomorrow.
A lot can be lost in a very short period of time when redaction requires nothing more than a single button click.