United States Copyright Office: Ripping is Illegal

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Today the Register of Copyrights and the Librarian of Congress announced the 1201 exemptions.  You may remember that the 1201 review is the triannual process where organizations, communities, and individuals request permission to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies that prevent them from doing otherwise perfectly legal things.  This time around, Public Knowledge requested an exemption that would allow people to rip DVDs they already own in order to transfer the movie to a device that cannot play DVDs (like a tablet).

That request was rejected.  Furthermore, the Register and the Librarian explained that they were unconvinced that space shifting was fair use at all.  That has huge implications well beyond people who want to watch the movies they own on DVD on their iPad.

“Space Shifting” is what you do any time to take a file and move it from one medium to another.  The best known example of this is probably ripping CDs to move the songs on to digital music devices like iPods.  If you think it is ridiculous that such activity is illegal, you are right. 

And the RIAA and the MPAA agree with you.  In 2005, their lawyer (now the Solicitor General of the United States) assured the Supreme Court that “The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it’s been on their Website for some time now, that it’s perfectly lawful to take a CD that you’ve purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

Movie executives agree as well.  Mitch Singer, the Chief Technology Officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment explained to author Robert Levine that the idea for the movie industry’s UltraViolet program evolved out of Singer’s own frustration with transferring movies between PCs in his home.

So do members of Congress.  Earlier this year, Representative Darrell Issa did a IAmA on Reddit.  Rep. Issa told Redditors that it was already perfectly legal to make personal copies of DVDs for their own use.

If all of this, combined with the fact that all major media management software comes with space shifting technology built into it out of the box, is not enough for the Register of Copyrights and the Librarian of Congress, then it is time to for Congress to step up. 

Public Knowledge has already proposed a bill, hosted on the Internet Blueprint,that would incorporate noncommercial personal uses into the definition of fair use.  Congress needs to pass the bill in order to make clear that the millions of Americans who have copied songs they own onto their iPods and movies they own onto their laptops and tablets are not copyright infringers.

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