I am trying to find a way to legally copy DVDs we own to an external hard drive for storage connected to my laptop. When we take long road trips it would be nice to not have to haul all our movies along. — Bill
This question was answered on March 1, 2013. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
Copyright laws are extremely complex and when it comes to encrypted DVDs in particular, it’s so complex that it requires a legal expert to explain what you can or can’t do with the DVD movies that you purchase.
So I went to my go-to legal resource on technology issues, Maria Crimi Speth, a partner at Jaburg & Wilk who focuses on intellectual property and Internet law to get some clarity on this common question.
According to Speth “It is a violation of Copyright law, specifically the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), to circumvent the encryption of a DVD (or any technology). There are exceptions, but they do not include “space shifting.”
The Library of Congress defines ‘space shifting’ as the copying of complete works to permit personal use on alternative devices. So, when you purchased your DVD, it was intended to be viewed on a DVD player and fair use laws do not extend that viewing to your other non-DVD devices.
The exceptions that allow for circumvention of the copy protection are short portions (never the entire movie) for criticism or comment in non-commercial videos, documentary films, non-fiction multimedia ebooks offering film analysis or for educational purposes in film studies.
The other exception allows for the purpose of research to create specialized players for people that are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing.
The bottom line is, as soon as you break the copy protection (using a decryption program) so you can copy the movie, you have technically broken the law.
Many websites will claim that you are free to make copies of your commercial DVDs and include links to decryption programs, but you will technically be breaking the law if you choose to do so.
There is a legal solution that may help you with at least a portion of your movie collection, if you want to extend what you own to include ‘space shifting’.
Walmart’s Vudu online video service has a feature called Disc to Digital that will allow you to store your DVD collection on their cloud service. You can then watch them on any device with a web browser (tablets, laptops, smartphones, etc.) as well as many smart HDTVs, blue-ray players, gaming consoles and streaming media devices such as the Roku Box.
The rub for most people is that you have to take your DVDs to a Walmart store so they can validate the movies for your account and it costs $2 per movie, unless you want to upgrade a standard resolution movie to HDX which will cost you $5 each.
Walmart doesn’t actually do any conversions, it simply verifies that the movie is in their catalog, is an original and that it hasn’t been used for this purpose before (they will stamp the inside ring of your discs).
When they are finished with the process, they give you your movies back, so you could sell them to recoup the conversion charges.
It may seem like you are paying twice for the same movie, but what you are really paying for is an extension of the copyright to your other devices (the ability to space shift).
Not all of your movies will necessarily be in their catalog, so you may want to do a search on the Vudu website before you haul your collection to the store.
(Editor's Note: Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)