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Do you rip movies to avoid the scratched disc tax?

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Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

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Couch potatoes ... television watching has barely dropped, according to research.

Couch potatoes ... television watching has barely dropped, according to research.

Do you break the law to copy your own movies?

Most people know the pain of destroying your favourite album or movie by scratching the disc. Maybe your kids were a bit too rough with it, maybe your disc player decided to chew on it or maybe you were just unlucky.

I recently destroyed one of my kids' DVDs when staying at a friend's holiday house. The television has a slot-loading DVD player built into the back of the screen, so I reached around to insert a disc but forgot there was already a disc in there. The spinning disc inside the television dug a huge groove into the disc in my hand, after which the damaged disc refused to play.

I haven't scratched many optical discs over the years, because I tend to copy discs to my computer and put the originals away for safekeeping. It's easy to do this with music CDs using iTunes or a range of other music software. To be honest I also do the same with many of my DVD and Blu-ray movies at home, copying them to my Windows Media Centre using software such as AnyDVD HD and HandBrake. I recently added a 2TB external USB drive to my media centre to cope with our burgeoning movie and music library, with the option to stream content around the house.

My DVD jukebox lets the kids watch their favourite movies without getting their grubby fingers on the discs. It's possible to rip a movie without sacrificing the picture quality, or to downscale it to watch on a handheld gadget. After scratching my first movie I'll now try to leave our DVDs at home when we travel -- either carrying them on a tablet or on a little media player which will plug into any television.

Ripping movies is just as simple as ripping music, except one is legal under Australian law and the other is not. Under Australia's convoluted copyright laws it's legal to rip your music CDs to your computer, but not to rip your movies from DVD or Blu-ray. They're all just ones and zeros on an optical disc, but movies get special protection under law.

I know it's possible to buy movies and music as digital downloads to avoid discs completely, but movie downloads don't match the picture quality of DVD and Blu-ray discs. There's more to a good picture than simply resolution and you'll notice that a 720p or 1080p iTunes video often offers less detail in the shadows than a 1080p Blu-ray movie. Opting for digital downloads can also mean compromising on audio formats.

Hopefully next year's review of Australian copyright law will finally make it legal to make a backup of a movie you own, although our obligations under the US Free Trade Agreement could cause problems because ripping a DVD or Blu-ray involves circumventing the encryption on the disc.

It remains to be seen whether Australian politicians put the interests of consumers ahead of the demands of the powerful US copyright lobby. When iTunes was first released in Australia it was still against the law to rip music from CDs to play on your iPod, but the government looked the other way until the law was finally changed. Let's hope common sense also prevails when it comes to movies.

How do you avoid the scratched disc tax?

71 comments so far

  • I guess the music/video discrepancy comes down to perceptions of copying. Its pretty impossible to stop music copying (you just need a good set of speakers and a good microphone and the result is pretty much 100% as far as most of the population is concerned.
    The big video names have been leading a campaign towards allowing SD to be copyable but trying to ensure HD isn't. So perhaps next year (SD) DVDs will be made legally copyable. As will ripping Blurays to SD picture quality. Unlikely though I agree. But for some reason the big video names feel (felt?) they could stop copying of blurays at full quality (which is trivial).

    Commenter
    Peter
    Location
    Oz
    Date and time
    December 10, 2012, 4:47PM
    • For over two decades it was illegal to record FTA television using a VCR. I'm guessing it will be another two decades before our next legal jump...

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Oz
      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 4:49PM
      • We use DVD Shrink and Handbrake too, but for discs that aren't movies where you want to easily preserve menu screens, subtitles, etc, we just leave it as a rip of the DVD from DVD Shrink (ie just leave it as the VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders and don't use Handbrake to convert to MP4 or AVI) and have set Windows Media Center to read the raw VOB files. It takes up a bit more space but works brilliantly.

        Commenter
        TZ
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        December 10, 2012, 4:52PM
        • TZ use Freemake Video Converter (it's free) it will convert VOB and any other format straight to MP4, avi etc

          Commenter
          Mark of Adelaide
          Date and time
          December 11, 2012, 8:06AM
      • Would welcome the opportunity to do this legally but it is a *slow* process. I've often thought it would be nice to get my new box set and rip them to iTunes - but I've come to accept that I'm too lazy to spend hours doing that for the small benefit in swapping a disc every half-dozen episodes.

        I've never scratched any disc that I wanted to keep - but then we don't have children in the household so less risk.

        I made the mistake of buying Walking Dead Season 2 from iTunes just prior to them offering HD of the show (which, as you rightly point out, is much less than Blu-Ray anyway.) What a disappointment! While I only had to flick a button to get my show loaded up those first couple of shows were sufficient to make me leave off for the Blu-Ray box-set. Thankfully, they switched over to HD and the show became watchable again!!

        Here's hoping they make it legal though I think largely it's academic as long as you're not attempting to flout the law through sale of said backups. I've never heard of anyone not engaged in commercial activity being arrested so I don't sweat a knock on the door for that reason. I think, at this point, the only discs that I still have ripped and accessible are some P90X discs that are (or were....) in rotation so often that chance of damage was considerable.

        Commenter
        MikeB
        Date and time
        December 10, 2012, 5:11PM
        • Encryption/security guru Bruce Schneier has a relevant quote; "Digital files can not be made un-copyable any more than water can be made not wet" Bruce is the inventor of Blowfish (amongst lots of other stuff) and probably the most respected author on the topic, so he's a man whose opinion may count.

          What Bruce is saying is that anything that can be 'made' can be 'un-made' The other problem for content owners is we don't all need to be 'hackers' and know how to by-pass CSS (for DVDs) or AACS (for Blu-Ray) It only takes one person to get a clean copy of the movie and the super efficient distribution tool (aka the internet) does the rest.

          Consumers proved long ago with music that they will happily trade hi-quality, hi-cost (CD) for low-fi, low cost (zero) with MP3. And content owners can be sure the same is true with video. My kids watch back to back torrents of DR Who. I buy Blu-Ray and DVDs because a) I'm an old fart (50) plus I like atoms over bits. But I think I'm in the minority ...

          Commenter
          Deano647
          Date and time
          December 10, 2012, 5:19PM
          • Like you Deano647, I couldn't be bothered to back up my movies & TV shows esp when you have hundreds of discs. I'll burn a copy of movie for family using dvdshrink but to do a good quality burn takes 2-3 hours. Occasionally I do download mostly current tv shows but high quality shows require fast internet & a large limit. Also the illegality of it dissuades me. I've backed up on an external drive but when it was corrupted I lost a terabyte of movies & tv shows. So now for HD quality I play blu-rays & dvds. If quality isn't an issue then streaming online suffices.

            Commenter
            Dan50
            Date and time
            December 11, 2012, 12:43AM
          • Dan50, if it takes 2-3 hours to perform a high quality pass with DVD Shrink, it is time for an upgrade. My 8 year old PCs would take that long. A recently retired 5 year old system would take about 25 minutes. My 1 year old PC will perform the same job in 12 minutes, and would be faster if I used the Solid-State Drive instead of the Hard Disk Drive.

            I have backed up every single DVD I have bought. I do this for the following reasons. Loaned disks can get scratched. With a backup, I have lost a used blank and a little time to remake the DVD. I like having backups in case something happens with the original. I've had original DVDs that wouldn't play in any DVD player or drive (and it wasn't zoning) but the backup has played perfectly. And I hate having to sit through up to 20 minutes of non-bypassable anti-piracy notices. If anything, those cause more piracy than they deter.

            But DVDs are so 2005. Time to get all digital. A 2+ Terabyte external HDD is effectively a video store in a box the size of a thick paperback novel.

            Commenter
            Ghost
            Location
            Syd
            Date and time
            December 11, 2012, 1:05PM
        • Don't forget that the enforcers of copyright laws have actually gone after people who have ripped things to their computer on the grounds that they might potentially share them online. So while it might seem that you could copy something and not worry too much because it seems fair, the old media people are like the stage coach people blowing up rail road tracks, desperate to support a dying industry model.

          Commenter
          Flingebunt
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          December 10, 2012, 5:29PM
          • Movies get are too much protection because American laws interfere with domestic.

            It should be perfectly legal for one to rip a movie. Simply not to distribute it.

            Commenter
            Liam B
            Location
            Perth
            Date and time
            December 10, 2012, 5:57PM

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