You paid your twenty bucks for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory DVD. Now you’d like to copy the movie onto your Apple iPod, Sony PlayStation Portable, PDA, or notebook for an upcoming trip. Can you do it?
Technically? Yes. Legally? Not so fast. If you copy those Oompa-Loompas from the DVD onto your handheld, you’re violating copyright law.
Passed by Congress in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to circumvent or bypass any digital rights management protection. The vast majority of commercial DVDs are protected by Content-Scrambling System encryption, which is a form of DRM. However, some commercial DVDs contain content that is no longer protected by copyright, such as the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
Making any digital copy of any CSS-protected content–even if it’s for your own use–can be interpreted as a violation of the DMCA, explains Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. Von Lohmann and I exchanged e-mails recently on the legalities of copying DVDs onto handheld devices.
A number of programs have become available in recent months that allow you to copy content from commercial DVDs onto video iPods and other handheld devices. Though using these programs to copy CSS-encrypted DVDs may violate the DMCA, von Lohmann explains, he’s not aware of any individual being sued for doing so.
Many copyright experts believe that personal, noncommercial copying of content not protected by DRM, including most audio CDs (though some are now protected), would be considered fair use if challenged in court, von Lohmann added.
In summary: You copy your Charlie DVD, you break the law. But what if you recorded Charlie on TiVo, then burned the movie onto a DVD? Could you then legally copy the movie from your TiVo-made DVD onto a handheld device?
“I would argue that what you are doing is a fair use, as I don’t see it as fundamentally undermining the incentives of the motion picture or television industries,” von Lohmann writes. “Moreover, it’s effectively the same as the old VHS tape, which could be removed and taken to another VCR for playback.”
The courts ruled years ago that recording TV programs onto tape for personal use was considered fair use and not copyright infringement. The TiVo-DVD-to-handheld-device workaround is simply a 21st-century variation on that situation, von Lohmann notes.
I tried using one of the new DVD-copying products, Pocket DVD Wizard 2006, to convert TiVo-burned movies on DVD to files for a video iPod. The program was easy to use, and the video quality was fine. Pocket DVD Wizard 2006 also lets you convert DVD video files into formats compatible with PlayStation Portables, Palm OS and Windows Mobile PDAs, and some portable media players. You can download a free trial version from PC World; it’s $30 to keep.
Another option coming up: TiVoToGo, software that lets you transfer TiVo recordings onto PCs, will include a new feature for transferring recordings onto video iPods and PlayStation Portables. The enhancement was announced last fall for availability in first-quarter 2006. At this writing, however, the company had not yet released the new feature set.
Also, as of this writing, rumors were swirling online that Apple is going to announce a new, larger-screen video iPod. Perhaps to coincide with the new device, Apple is reportedly planning to offer full-length movie downloads from its iTunes online media store. Apple hasn’t commented on the rumors.
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Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I’ve missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I’m unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.
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