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Legal to Burn Copies of DVDs That You Own?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

You've seen those FBI warnings at the start of a movie when you pop in a DVD. The warnings tell you that unauthorized reproduction is illegal.

But what is "unauthorized reproduction," and when can it land you in hot water? Is it legal to burn a DVD that you own?

The answer to that lies in the eternal question: Is it illegal if you won't ever get caught?

What the Law Says

Here's the lowdown on this. According to the law, it is actually illegal to rip a DVD, even if you own it, as Lifehacker points out. That's if we're talking about DVDs that contain copy-protected content.

Specifically speaking, Title I of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) states in part that it's illegal to "circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title."

In short, circumventing the copy-protection mechanism on the DVD is a violation of the DCMA.

In some ways, that goes against the whole concept of fair use. Under this legal doctrine, attorneys have argued that owners of media have the right to back up their media by making copies, CNET has reported.

But the DMCA gets in the way, with its pesky provisions.

Practical Considerations

There was a rather prominent case on this issue, which pitted the DMCA against the fair use doctrine. In RealNetworks v. DVD Copy Control Association, a federal court found RealNetworks to be in violation of the DMCA because its software circumvented copy-protection technology.

As you can see, the movie industry is pretty vigilant when it comes to the protection of its copyrighted material.

Of course, that doesn't mean DVD owners aren't burning copies of movies they own anyway, even with the DCMA in place. Are there any risks to doing that?

The reality is that private DVD ripping for private home viewing is relatively umonitored, and it's a crime that is definitely very difficult to enforce. But if you are caught, either through distribution of these copied DVDs or through a search of your home, beware! You will have to face the wrath of prosecutors, and perhaps even some powerful movie studios.

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