Portable Triviality

Fair use and DVDs remain top-of-mind in my world again this week thanks to a friendly reminder from Carlton, who is currently serving in the U.S. military. He points out that ripping all of his DVDs to a hard drive is a must because packing them for stationing in places like Kuwait and Iraq is simply not an option. While Carlton’s case is more extreme than some, bringing DVDs along for the ride on trips for either work or pleasure isn’t necessarily a desirable option.

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling with young children in the past year. Hotels just aren’t a friendly environment for people under 5. Virtually everything in the room is something unsafe for exploration and there are only so many toys that fit in a carry-on bag or in the car. Plus there’s the temptation to attempt a breakout for a mad dash down the hall. Sometimes, a familiar movie is the only thing for winding down any otherwise amplified little person.

Sure, you could bring just one movie, but what happens when it is exactly the wrong movie? Then there’s a whole new level of unhappiness. Kids don’t care about the logistical limitations of bringing the entire DVD library along. Whatever you bring, short of the full catalog, is sure to be wrong. And what if you happen to forget one of the 30 DVDs you packed as you are checking out?

Being able to take the movies along in a more portable format (like on a hard drive), or even take a backup copy along is considerably more sensible. This is where fair use comes in. It should be within our rights to haul those movies along for the ride in any format we choose, so long as we are only playing them back for personal use.

The movie companies fear piracy so much, they don’t want to allow copying because everyone with an Internet connection will certainly turn into a distribution facility and the $20/DVD they once made will be out the window. Currently, many solutions exist for stripping the privacy protections from DVDs and storing them in every video format imaginable. Technically, all these solutions violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provides certain protections to content creators. By rights that means any ripping of DVDs done by a U.S. citizen could be considered a criminal act. As I mentioned previously, Europe isn’t far behind with even more draconian laws.

How do we change this? I’m not sure how the process works outside the U.S. Here in the States, the best thing we can do is voice our concerns to the elected officials making these decisions. Speak up or continue to have your rights erode. Look beyond the relative triviality of being able to make DVD backups for road trips with the family. This is an issue far more pressing than who used what imagery in their campaign ads and yet I don’t hear anyone talking about it in a public forum.


  1. I guess I don’t see the logic in extrapolating the ability and ease of copying something into that making it legally or morally right or OK to do so… as I understand it, copying copyright material requires the permission of the copyright holder. And the copyright holder can grant you full permission, partial permission or no permission.
    But I’m not a lawyer… and wrestle with the proper way to use copyright material every day, even what I own the copyright to.

  2. As the parent of a disabled child, I have been puzzling a similar problem, which is how to take the various tapes and dvds that my son likes and put them on a large drive and create a front end that allows him to select the video from a child friendly menu and watch the movie that way. He simply cannot work a tape or dvd player on his own, and this would let him have some independence and control. So I really understand what Jake was addressing.
    Unless I’m only leasing the dvd or video, I’m thinking I bought the video and want to do things an owner should be allowed to do – I need to do 2 things that the law should allow me to do, which is make a backup copy (anyone with kids understands that) and the right to be the one who decides what technology I use to view the content.
    Maybe this is not compatible with the law as it stands (although the Supreme Court allows me to videotape tv shows without getting the copyright holders OK as long as it’s for personal use, so why can’t I do that with my dvds) but if this is against the law, the law must be changed.
    I don’t want to be a law breaker, but if the law doesn’t allow me to do reasonable and customary things, then the law is wrong. And if the creators of the content want me to buy their products yet only under conditions that treat me like a criminal when I try to use them in a way they didn’t envision, then perhaps consumers need to spend their money in other ways.
    Trust me, when the broadcast flag means you can’t burn a dvd of that day’s Sesame Street for watching later, we’ll be sorry we didn’t act sooner.

  3. My in-laws live 10,000 miles away where our VHS tapes are not compatible with their VCR’s. I am simply dumb-struck by the idea that I will be breaking the law by making them a DVD of their grandchildren! The only words I have in my head right now are not suitable to print here.

  4. To clarify the last point, it is not illegal to send DVD content created by you to someone else. Copyright laws prohibit you distributing content created by someone else.

  5. I’m not a professional writer of anything, but I did once receive $50 for a column that ran in a car magazine. Now that I’ve made full disclosure, I have to side with professional writers and producers of material that is considered entertainment by most of the normal thinking world. If these professionals do not make any money from their efforts, then surely they will cease and desist and find other ways to earn their keep. Back in the dark ages before copying machines and computers (I’m 65 and I still remember) we managed to take trips and be kept entertained without having to bring a “device” of some such. We usually brought coloring books or just books with us or we played games like 3/4 of a ghost and the like. I guess what I’m saying is that we must protect our professional writers and producers of entertainment or their output will cease to exist. The “excuse” you use for needing what are illegal copies is bogus and you know it.

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