PK to Copyright Office: Let People Rip Their Own DVDs

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Today Public Knowledge asked the Copyright Office to make it legal for people to crack DVD encryption in order to copy movies and TV shows they own on DVDs onto other devices they own.  The Copyright Office can do this by granting a 3-year exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, better known as the DMCA. 

Why is This Exception Necessary?

Most people are fairly comfortable with the idea of copying copyrighted works they own from one medium to another.  This is sometimes called “space shifting” or “format shifting.”  For example, this is what you do when you rip a CD in order to create .mp3 files to transfer to your iPod. 

Another example of this is when you transfer a movie from a DVD onto a laptop or a tablet device, like an iPad.  However, there is one important difference between a movie on DVD and a song on a CD: unlike the CD, DVDs are encrypted.  That means that while copying a song from a CD is a one step process (copy the file), copying a movie from a DVD is a two-step process (decrypt the file, copy the file). 

Users are authorized to decrypt the movie in order to watch it, but are not authorized to decrypt the movie in order to copy it.  As a result, that extra DVD step (decrypting) is illegal under the DMCA.  That makes it impossible to copy DVDs the same way you copy CDs.

Why is PK Asking For This Now?

Fortunately, when it passed the DMCA Congress recognized that the provisions that made it illegal to decrypt a DVD without authorization could inadvertently make legal activities illegal.  For example, if it is legal make copies of parts of movies for the purpose of commentary or criticism under fair use, but illegal to access the movie in order to make the copies, there is a conflict that needs to be resolved.

Part of the DMCA instructs the Copyright Office to conduct a review every 3 years to determine if legitimate uses are being “adversely affected” by the provision that makes it illegal to circumvent access controls like encryption.  If the Copyright Office identifies a problem, it can grant a 3-year exemption (which can be renewed in the next proceeding) from the DMCA for that activity.

What Happens Next?

In the next few weeks, the Copyright Office will take all of the requests for exemptions and make them available to the public.  At that point, the public will have a month or two to respond to the proposals.  After that there will be a public hearing, another limited round of comments, and finally a decision from the Copyright Office.

Watch this space, because we will need your help in responding to the proposals.  In the past, large content owners have urged the Copyright Office to reject DVD-related exemptions.  They insist that people should just use a camcorder to record the movie off of their TV, or use screen capture software on their computer.  The Copyright Office has also insisted upon evidence that people really need this exemption, and that it is not just a theoretical concern.

So in the next few weeks, we are going to put out a call for you to tell the Copyright Office that this exemption is important.  You will need to tell them that you are a real person, who really owns DVDs, who would like to be able to copy the movies you paid for onto other devices you own.  We may even ask you to remind the Copyright Office that telling people to use a camcorder to record a movie from a TV screen is a stupid idea.

In any event, keep an eye out for the announcement.  We will make it here on the blog, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and our email list (sign up on the right).

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