Movies.

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.