Do you rip movies to avoid the scratched disc tax?
Photo: Roger Cummins
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.
They're all just ones and zeros on an optical disc, but movies get special protection under law.
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?