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When can we backup our DVDs?


Gadgets on the go

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

View more entries from Gadgets on the go



Will Australian copyright law finally let us format-shift movies as well as music?

Until five years ago Australians were actually breaking the law when they recorded TV shows or ripped music CDs to their computer. Of course we did it anyway, but the long arm of the law didn't tap people on the shoulder because we all knew the law was a joke. It's little wonder people have such scant regard for other copyright restrictions.

At the time the lawmakers stopped short of granting Australians the right to format-shift their DVDs. It's a frustrating distinction considering it's all just ones and zeros, but you can be sure there was a lot of lobbying behind the scenes.

Of course things are complicated by our Free Trade Agreement with the US, which saw Australia inherit all the worst bits of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In a nutshell we're permitted to backup DVDs but we're not permitted to break the encryption on commercial DVDs (which is necessary to backup the movie). Even the parliamentary report on the issue describes it as a "lamentable and inexcusable flaw... that verges on absurdity".

We were promised there would be a review of the law in a few years and it's about to get underway, with the Attorney General's department issuing Draft Terms of Reference for the Australian Law Reform Commission Reference on Copyright. Submissions close on April 27 and the Commission is to report no later than November 30, 2013.

Chances are that the review will pay more attention to online issues such as the clash between Optus and the AFL over broadcast rights and online time-shifting. But the review also needs to address the "absurdity" of the Catch 22 laws regarding ripping DVDs. The scope of reference includes "a review of exceptions in relation to technological protection measures". Yet I wouldn't be surprised if DVD ripping is put in the too hard basket and ignored, because it's just easier to give in to the demands of powerful copyright lobby groups rather than stand up for our rights.

You probably won't even hear much public debate about DVD ripping, because everyone who does it knows the law is a joke -- just like the old laws regarding ripping CDs. If Australian lawmakers are content to keep absurd laws on the books, it's little wonder the law can't get no respect.

7 comments so far

  • We need a reality-check; the chasm emerging between what the Law says, and what is actually happening in practice is getting so large, that unless this problem is addressed urgently, the Law will be made to look like an ass.

    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 9:36AM
    • DVDs? What about BluRay? Every 3-4 months I try to hire a BD movie then there's much cursing and swearing while I wait for the abominably complicated DRM to update on the player before I can view it. Then the mearest speck on the disc causes multi-minute pauses and skips because there's no decent redundancy on the disc vs. in-ya-face DRM.

      The Moon
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 10:19AM
      • I've given up renting blu-rays.

        Of the ones I have rented about 80% have frozen up halfway through the movie. They are far too sensitive to minor marks.

        When you combine this with clueless Video Rental staff (in this case the store manager) who appear unaware of the correct method for cleaning an optical disc, it's unsurprising so many fail.

        I rent movies on line now if I bother at all. It's issues like this that drive the public towards the pirates, who ironically, usually give you a disk/file that actually plays.

        Date and time
        April 16, 2012, 3:41PM
    • The comments are correct about the law needing reform.
      Either the industry provides the data in formats that suit the consumers required hardware or the law gets relaxed to suit the way consumers use the product. Or else consumers will stay law breakers. The entertainment industry has some allies in road laws and drug laws. Will the entertainment industry really be any different?
      I hear you cry if you buy a fast car you might not ever speed: true, and you can buy alcohol and not break laws. Large parts of the community take illegal drugs and nothing has happened really about the law. This has fuelled a wonderful industry full of "colourful" people. Will the lack of interest in law reform here make a new colourful industry. Or has it already?

      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 12:33PM
      • "the Commission is to report no later than November 30, 2013"

        Ah yes the speed of government.

        I can almost guarantee that nothing good will come out of this review (for consumers or the general public). There is simply no interest in listening to the view of every day people when powerful lobby groups like AFACT exist to hamper our every argument.

        In an ideal world the industry would be forced to provide the services demanded by the public or lose their copyright laws.

        Date and time
        April 16, 2012, 1:38PM
        • As technology progresses, and some of us still cling to our VHS tapes and vinyl records (which may yet still not have been released on DVD/CD.Blu-ray), the law should not only allow format shifting, but downloading of items you already own. For example, if I rip my own CD for private use on my MP3 player, that's legal, but if I download MP3s off the net for that same CD I already own, that's illegal.

          Yes, the law is an ass.

          Date and time
          April 16, 2012, 8:44PM
          • Ah, Zem, I have had that exact thought for some time. Owning some 100+ LP's & as many (if not more) cassette tapes, I don't feel like I should have to purchase them again on CD or pay to download these when I already own it in a different format. Oh, well... I guess we can keep dreaming...

            Date and time
            April 17, 2012, 10:39PM

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