I’ve got one of those so-called video iPods. It’s fine that I can download television shows and movies from iTunes, but I’ve already got a huge DVD collection. I don’t really see the need to re-purchase programs that I already own. It seems like I should be able to transfer my DVD’s to my iPod. iTunes is great about copying my CD collection. How come it can’t do the same thing with my DVD collection?
Confused By iTunes
[ad#AdSense1] It is sort of strange that iTunes isn’t able to rip your DVDs in the same way that it rips CDs. However, I can assure you that it isn’t because Apple doesn’t want you converting your DVDs for use on your Ipod. It would be illegal for Apple to build DVD ripping into iTunes.
Actually, it’s not the ripping of DVDs that’s the problem, but the fact that most commercial DVDs are copy protected by a DRM scheme known as CSS (
Copy Content Scramble System). Thanks to a law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) it’s illegal for Americans to use any method to circumvent copy protection on digital products. While Apple could include DVD ripping in iTunes, it probably wouldn’t produce the results that you’re looking for, since it wouldn’t be able to convert most of the videos you’d likely want to watch on your iPod.
There’s been a lot of confusion over this issue. Frequently you’ll read that it’s legal to copy DVDs as long as it’s for personal use only. That isn’t the case. The DMCA focuses on the circumvention of copy protection and does not take the intentions of the user into account. Any attempt to break the CSS copy protection is a violation of Federal law. It doesn’t matter that you legally purchased a DVD and now you’re trying to copy it to your iPod for personal use.
One of the problems is that the DMCA was passed in 1998, and the world has changed quite a bit since then. It’s fair to say that the politicians who passed the law never anticipated that consumers might have a legitimate need to convert DVDs to a more portable format. Far be it from politicians to have a deep understanding of the technology they seek to legislate.
So, what is the owner of a modern, video-enabled, portable media player to do?
Well, some device manufacturers assume that you’ll break the law. Prior to the Zune launch Microsoft’s J Allard talked with Engadget about the Zune’s file compatibility, and the need for the Zune to be compatible with the formats used by popular DVD ripping software. Allard apparently isn’t aware of the DMCA.
Apple, on the other hand, will be happy to sell you a variety of television shows (and a much smaller selection of motion pictures) in an iPod compatible format.
And then there’s software like PodMaxx, which will rip DVD’s, but won’t decrypt CSS. However, if you write to their customer support department about this issue you’ll get a message like this in response:
If you are getting a message that the DVD you are trying to backup is copy-protected, this occurs because the DVD is encrypted with CSS Copy Protection. CSS decryption is illegal in the US and cannot be distributed with our software.
DVD decryption software found on the Internet and developed by independent third parties such as Boooya.com are not distributed by or in any way associated with our company. We cannot warrant such and do not provide support for such third party ripping software. The plugin will allow you to copy copy-protected DVD’s.
In other words, “we can’t help you, but we’ve heard rumors that there’s someone out there might be able to” (nudge nudge, wink wink).
Mac users will probably want to take a look at HandBrake, an open source video conversion tool that seems to fly under the radar because it’s non-commercial. The program handles CSS decryption through an open source decryption library that’s used in the popular VLC Media Player. You will, of course, consult your attorney before using HandBrake.
At this point I’ve probably already revealed too much. I’ll just close by noting that the DMCA needs to be modified to allow for a range of consumer activities that are clearly fair use.