DVD Ripping - Legal or Illegal?

by : Tim Moss

U.S. copyright laws forbid the sale of software that bypasses DVD copy protection. Despite this there are hundreds of the software packages available online that have that capability.

In recent cases brought under the existing law the claim was made that the vendors were unaware of the capability of the software they offered for sale. Specifically, the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act bans providing information or tools to negate copy-control features. This includes the Contents Scramble System currently employed by DVD's. Individuals and companies are forbidden to sell DVD-ripping programs and copyright attorneys maintain that people who use the software in the US to break the protection are breaking the law.

While the US Movie industry fights to protect it's rights under copyright law, the vast array of DVD ripping software now offered for sale online and the ease with which consumers can use it, make it a foregone conclusion that Hollywood is fighting a losing battle. Today the copying and conversion of DVD and audio files is totally simple and, in fact, much of the software now offered free online automate the technique. Even the non-geeks can do it!

John Malcolm, antipiracy chief of the Motion Picture Association of America disputes the freedom of use claims made in the case of DVD's being copied by someone who has bought the DVD for their personal use as backup etc. The MPAA plans to stop the piracy of movies before movies go the way of the music industry where piracy is so widespread as to have completely negated the laws of copyright in the US. MPAA was successful in getting a court order to ban 321 Studio's flagship product DVD-X Copy. After a number of unsuccessful court battles, the company went out of business despite the fact that the product was a highly popular and successful program.

Many of the companies distributing DVD ripping software sold at major outlets warn US customers of the illegality of copying DVD's with copyright protection. At the same time, consumers are directed to other sites (many of them offshore) where the necessary software elements to complete ripping copyright protected DVD's. While MPAA continues to promise direct action to stop piracy, the actual ability of the Association to effect this intent in such situations has to be questioned.