Is Ripping a DVD Always A Crime -- No Matter What?

by Matthew Russell

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Earlier I authored a post entitled "How Intellectual Property Laws Can Drain Your Battery's Juice" but tried to steer the discussion away from intellectual property controversy as much as possible. After getting some inspiration from David Battino's "NetFlix for Free . . .Plus a DVD-Copying Tip" post, however, I've decided to go ahead and vent something I restrained myself from last time: Is ripping a DVD always a crime -- no matter what?

If you always do things by the book -- no matter what -- then you'll probably nod immediately and say, "Well of course it is. The disc contains a warning that expressly forbids you from copying it without the authoritative written approval of ... and they'll drag you out into the street and whip you with a stick if you even think about it."

If you're this kind of thinker, then you're underlying thesis is probably based upon the notion that in purchasing a DVD, you're gaining the rights to view the contents of the physical disc and you're completely and totally bound by the licensing agreement -- no matter what. No backups, no copying, no compressing it to another format, etc. Ok, that's all well and good. No one is can fault you for that, but make sure that you're just as diligent in calling the mattress police if you ever find one with a tag that's been prematurely removed. (Fletch anyone?)

Assuming that there's a least a few dissenting opinions out there, what about those folks who want to copy a DVD for what would otherwise be a totally legitimate purpose if it weren't for that little warning? To quote David: "After I watch the movies, I’ll delete the copied files; I have no interest in piracy, just time-shifting"

Amen. If I had to guess, I'd think there might just be a silent majority out there that feels the same way.

Although I can totally empathize with the mattress police crowd, let's pretend that we're philosophers and make the assumption that it's at least a possibility that those DVD warnings are inherently bogus, and thus, they should be disregarded entirely. But let's not be intellectual property pirates either. We'll go along with some of the conventional wisdom of the audio industry and assume that it would be alright to legitimately backup and make a copy for personal use.

Assuming that you haven't violently left the building by now, I'll take it that you're willing to play along -- if for nothing else then to play devil's advocate. While there's a number of ways that we could slice this pie, I don't even necessarily want to be dogmatic about any particular point of view as much as I just want to throw out some of the possible options for analysis.

To give all of this abstract talk a little more concrete grounding, I recently noticed that the local McDonald's has a DVD rental machine. You swipe your card, and out pops a movie for a buck. As long as you return it to the machine within 24 hours, all is well. If you don't return it within some time period, it becomes yours and you get charged. It's a pretty clever technique. They lure you in for a cheap rental, and you likely spend money on food as you pass through.

Let's assume that we've rented a DVD for a 24 hour period and have a DVD ripper handy. Without trying to be tooexhaustive, here are a few possible scenarios:

  • You return the movie after watching it

  • You return the movie without watching it

  • You rip DVD, don't watch it, and delete it within the 24 hour rental period

  • You rip DVD, don't watch it, and delete it 48 hours later

  • You rip the DVD, watch the ripped version within the 24 hour rental period and then delete it immediately

  • You rip the DVD, watch the ripped version within the 24 hour rental period, but don't delete it until 48 hours later

  • You rip the DVD, don't watch it till 48 hours later, but immediately delete it after watching

Can we devise some kind of ordering scheme and then make a clear division between "right" and "wrong"? Or does the law trump all else and ultimately dictate that we should just stop all of this free-thinking nonsense?

I understand the difference between renting the rights to view the contents of a physical disk for some time period and purchasing the right to view a disc as a one time service but am still interested in hearing what you have to say about all of it.

True or False: Ripping a DVD is always a crime -- no matter what.


2005-10-11 18:56:46
It’s More Like Civil Disobedience...
...And it’s working. See
—David Battino (two T’s)
2005-10-11 21:16:40
Rise up and garner the PR
You got me caught up in thought enough to blog about it, but as I won't pander for cheap linkage, the crux is that the idea of permitting the consumer to use content and product in fair and just ways is actually on the rise, and the awareness is climbing. The whole next-gen DVD copy and secure-channel debate is going to bring this much more to the fore, and the ability of users to use, transfer, transcode and repurpose content in the confines of their life and for only their own fair and legal enjoyment is going to be a big market and PR advantage. The idea that you get the disc for an hour and can watch it legally once is a powerful idea as well. But do you need elaborate modes to enforce that or can you enforce it by contract and making it clear that you can watch it legally once within say two weeks for a small fee, after which time you must legally delete the copy, or for a slight larger fee you can keep the copy for your own use ad inifinitum..... Why use the technology only to restrict, which seems to be the trend of the studios?

If you really want to see the meandering post, it's at, but the guts is already here. Well written. Hopefully our rights will not be extinguished.

2005-10-11 23:14:09
The content is licensed to the rental agency for use by one person at a time.
That use isn't limited to viewing.

So if you rip the DVD, return it, then view the content at some other time, there's a good chance that license is violated as now 2 (or x, if x-1 people do that) people can use the content at the same time.

Even if every one of those x-1 people are as honest as you and delete the content afterwards, it still constitutes breach of contract.
While not (in most countries) a criminal offense, it is a civil offense.

But out of those x-1 there will be a number y (with y

2005-10-12 15:45:56
An interesting thought via an e-mail message:
Nice article, I maybe have some extra insight.

If you do not own the contents of a dvd, is the company responsible for the quality of the dvd. I mean if scratches prevent me from watching a dvd for wich i have paid the price for watching it, then the company who has sold me the right to watch the dvd is responsible for keeping the disk readable.

So if our dog made some holes in it just go back to the store and get a new one.



Hmmm. What do we do if a DVD becomes damaged? Do we suck it up because it's just our own clumsy fault? Or might it be reasonable to throw in a blurb into that scary looking warning that permits making a personal copy that we can lock into a safe somewhere?

Another question: Why try to legislate something that theoretically and (at least currently) practically impossible to enforce?

2005-10-12 16:05:59
Not Responsible For Cracked Windshields
Ever seen those signs on trucks that say "not responsible for cracked windshields?" Well guess what -- just because they put the sign up doesn't mean that they're not responsible. If they crack your windshield and the circumstances are right, you might just be able to get some compensation.

It's like someone wearing a shirt that says "not responsible for kicking your butt" -- the statement on the shirt doesn't mean anything.

I say that just to point out a practical (and humorous) example that just because someone puts something in writing doesn't mean it's enforceable or even coherent.

2005-10-13 13:37:26
Digital Protection
It's just a matter of time before DVDs are digitally protected against copying - an enhancement that will probably create a whole new breed of hacker wanting to pirate the content for private use.
2005-10-13 15:42:33
If I had to guess, I’d think there might just be a silent majority out there that feels the same way.

The majority is silent now. Most people have not yet actually been affected by DRM. Just watch out when they are; there’ll be fireworks.

2005-10-16 05:13:58
Re: effects of DRM
The fireworks have already started, concerning the non Red Book compliant audio CDs from Sony and others that do not work with iTunes and thus the content cannot be loaded onto an iPod.
2006-04-04 01:47:56
WinXMedia DVD Ripper may solve the problem, see it!