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Fair Use Or Copyright Violation

DVDsTechnologyCrimeTrying to explain to my wife the vagaries of copyright law and the concept of fair use has been a fun time. A few weeks back, I bought a 400GB network storage device and began a process to convert my entire CD collection to MP3s. We wanted to convert them to MP3 because the wife and I travel frequently and we want to drop new playlists onto the iPod for the flights.

(Important Note to the RIAA: Hey, Mitch! I have no intention of distributing these songs over any kind of a file sharing network. They are owned by my wife and I and meant for our own personal usage.)

There are hundreds and hundreds of CDs and it’s a long slow process. As I began the process, we started talking about the amount of free space this would create. If we convert all of the CDs, we can box them up and put them in the garage, thus eliminating the need for storage in the living room.

At some point in that discussion, she suggested that we convert all of our DVDs to electronic files and move them out as well. We were both intrigued by the possibility, so I began looking for ways to accomplish that.

I stumbled upon two very interesting things – a program that decrypts and stores DVDs locally (It’s called DVD Decrypter, but you’ll have to Google it because frankly I’m paranoid that the MPAA will come after me); and an odd piece of copyright law.

As it turns out, nearly everyone agrees that I can use the content on my DVDs for my own personal usage. Since I own a copy of Fight Club, I can watch that movie any time I choose – be it on the disk or as an mp4.

Strangely enough, though, the process of extracting the movie from the disk to make it an mp4 may be entirely illegal and land me in jail. It all comes down to the bizarre copy protections that have been put in place and the tangled morass of laws Congress – in its short sighted wisdom – has come up with to protect the movie studios from their customers.

The act of watching the movie in a format other than the disk is legal under fair use guidelines. If I, for no readily apparent reason, fed my output on the DVD to the input on my VCR and made a tape copy, I’m ok as long as I don’t redistribute it. But hacking my DVD to make that same movie viewable on the iPod while I am flying, appears to be a criminal act.

Is it just me, or does that seem odd to anyone else?

Needless to say, the wife is not happy to know this. We have not yet begun the great conversion of our movies from disk to file because she is afraid of raising the kiddo alone while daddy serves time.

Written by Michael Turk