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Feds Deny DVD Copying Exemption

30 Oct, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

The United States Copyright Office has struck down a proposed exemption to copyright protection for DVDs, an exemption which would have let DVD owners legally rip their content for use on devices without disc drives.

The federal Register of Copyrights concluded that public advocacy group Public Knowledge and others “failed to establish that the prohibition on circumvention is imposing an adverse impact on non-infringing uses.”

Public Knowledge had argued that DVD owners should be allowed to circumvent the format’s Content Scrambling System (CSS) for the purpose of “space shifting” that content to other devices, especially since many new consumer electronics devices, especially tablets, lack a DVD drive.

“While copyright owners are taking tentative steps to link motion pictures purchased on DVD to digital versions playable on new devices [UltraViolet and other digital copy initiatives], there is no indication that this program — if successful and sustainable — would apply retroactively to the millions of DVDs already lawfully owned by consumers and purchased when DVD was the only format available to them,” Public Knowledge argued.

But the copyright office ruled that there was no legal basis for the exemption, and doing away with DVD copy protection could open the door to more online piracy. It’s a ruling that’s been echoed since 2003, when the copyright office ruled “to deny copyright owners the ability to limit the device on which a particular digital work will be rendered necessarily forecloses the most useful protections afforded to them by the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA].”

The DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA), arguing against the proposed exemption, noted that today’s tablets and laptops built without disc drives still have the ability to connect to a DVD drive via peripherals. The DVD CCA also noted that when consumers buy a physical DVD, they’ve purchased the rights to play that content on a DVD player only.

“DVD CCA alleges that the proposed exemption would harm the market for works distributed in the DVD medium as well as that for works offered in other digital media, explaining that the proposed exemption would displace sales from existing and forthcoming digital offerings that the DMCA was meant to encourage and create ‘public confusion’ as to what is permitted activity,” the ruling reads.

If the exemption had been approved, DVD copying software that’s been previously deemed illegal — including RealNetwork’s ill-fated RealDVD copying software, struck down in court in 2009 — could have been allowed for widespread commercial use.

Comparing someone burning CD content to digital devices, Public Knowledge’s Michael Weinberg said in his reaction to the ruling that it was “ridiculous that such activity is illegal.”

In a blog post Weinberg noted that lawyers for the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America have voiced in favor of “space shifting” content, as have studio executives and members of Congress.

“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,” he wrote.

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