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DVD-Copying Tools Lose in Court, Flourish in Real Life

Over the past two days, two different commercial DVD-copying programs have gotten shot down by court rulings. Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel barred Seattle-based RealNetworks from selling its RealDVD program. And yesterday, a California appeals court reversed an earlier ruling that allowed Kaleidescape to sell its home DVD-storage system; now, that Sunnyvale, Calif., firm will have to plead its case all over again.

There are reasonable legal grounds for those two rulings. Both Real and Kaleidescape signed license agreements with the DVD Copy Control Association, the industry group behind the copying restrictions embedded in DVDs, that their products arguably breach. And the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) specifically bans attempts to circumvent those types of digital restrictions. These two companies, whatever the virtues of their software and hardware, may very well lose on appeal.

So what will those two rulings do to stop unauthorized copying of DVDs? Let me spell that out in a way that even a media mogul can grasp:


You can already rip a DVD to your hard drive to back it up or watch it on a portable device, and you don't need Hollywood's permission or any help from RealNetworks or Kaleidescape.

On a Mac, I use the free, open-source HandBrake, a wonderfully simple tool that -- when running with the free VLC player program installed -- decrypts the DVD, copies the movie and then converts it into a format suitable for the device of your choice: iPod, iPhone, PlayStation Portable, Apple TV and so on.

In Windows, things aren't so easy. If you're running a 32-bit release of XP or Vista, you can combine the free DVD43 with the Windows release of HandBrake. But if you've got a 64-bit edition of Vista, DVD43 won't work and you'll have to look elsewhere. I've had decent luck with the trialware DVDFab, but it's not nearly as elegant as HandBrake.

The movie industry may not like these programs, but there's nothing it can do about them. You can't get a file off the Internet. Period. It was idiotic to attempt that nine years ago, and the entire enterprise looks even more foolish today.

Meanwhile, Hollywood only hurts itself with this futile quest to ban software that makes DVDs more useful to law-abiding movie viewers. (The non-law-abiding type need not bother buying legal discs in the first place; between file-sharing networks and such physical-bootleg sources as the People's Republic of China, there's no lack of fraudulently procured movies.) The Los Angeles Times' Jon Healey nails it in this blog post:

By defeating Real and Kaleidescape in court, the studios and the DVD Copy Control Assn. (the inter-industry group that sued Kaleidescape) have made it harder for companies to develop new ways for people to watch Hollywood fare at home. And in doing so, Hollywood is attacking the perceived value of its products and cutting off potential outlets for growth.

The music industry, after prolonged angst, seems to have figured this out -- record labels sell their content online without copying restrictions, so you don't even need to mess with weird programs to make lawful use of your purchases. But the movie studios would apparently rather fight the future. How long do you give them before they accept reality?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 13, 2009; 1:04 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Video  
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Somewhere I have a t-shirt with the DeCSS source code on it.

Posted by: wiredog | August 13, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Bingo. People don't pirate music as much these days because they are willing to pony up a little cash for iTunes & Amazon's superior *experience*.

To simply protect your own copyright without seeing the extra revenue stream is a huge mistake. Selling codes for "digital versions" of movies in the DVD case is not a superior experience, btw.

Posted by: WorstSeat | August 13, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

High-quality pirated DVDs go for about $1.50 in China, and unlike the legitimate DVDs sold in China they don't have the racy scenes removed by censors. The selection is great, too; there are some old films available that would probably be hard to find at Blockbuster.

Posted by: bokamba | August 13, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Did you just say it was easier to do something on a Mac than on a PC? There's a little open source program called DVD Shrink, that converts the files off a DVD to any format you want. Do a little research before you start biasing your technology, sir.

Posted by: BMACattack | August 13, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

This is to the studio Big Tunas and media moguls: Resistance is futile; convert now or fall forever!. These are not my words but yours. I have had the pleasure and security of using,DVD Shrink, for the last four years. Sorry Mr. Pegoraro,DVD Shrink, works flawlessly on my PC, you should see what I did with King Kong. Given the legitimate option of using software like RealDVD, I will never have to go download virus,trojan etc etc that are out there. I want total control of my digital assets. Period.

Posted by: Bombones | August 14, 2009 2:31 AM | Report abuse

There is also MacTheRipper on the Mac side, it works quite well.

Posted by: sayNo2MS | August 14, 2009 4:42 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention they still insist on region-coding movies which not only inhibits distribution but makes buying movies for an international trip a rather hit and miss affair. Laptop DVD-ROMs still have only mixed success with region-bypass software.

Ripping such movies with region codes eliminated is often the only practical way to watch a movie you've paid for.

Posted by: memew | August 14, 2009 7:08 AM | Report abuse

I understand that there's a great product called AnyDVD from a company called Slysoft that is supposed to handle any copying task easily on a PC.

Posted by: dselner | August 14, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

All you need do is look at history to see why Hollywood *MUST* use copy protection to protect itself or, as Jack Valenti put it, see their industry destroyed.

You think not? Reflect then on the "bottled water" fiasco. Some of you may be too young to remember but a decade or two ago some corporate idiots got it in their heads that they could actually sell people water.

Yes, water. Sold in a bottle. The same stuff that any of us can get in unlimited quantities essentially for free from any household faucet.

Ridiculous, I know, but sure enough they tried it anyway. And you can guess the result. A complete FUBAR fiasco. Their industry was destroyed. I challenge anyone to find even one store today where you can buy "bottled water".

So copy protection is not just nonsense. The historical record proves their point!

Posted by: irrational_john | August 14, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

"On a Mac, I use the free, open-source HandBrake, a wonderfully simple tool that -- when running with the free VLC player program installed -- decrypts the DVD, copies the movie and then converts it into a format suitable for the device of your choice: iPod, iPhone, PlayStation Portable, Apple TV and so on.

In Windows, things aren't so easy."

Excuse me? On my 32-Bit Vista system, I have two different ripping programs that not only handle the ripping but then can do the burning to DVD as well, but also don't require the use of a second program to be running in order to work.

Also, "I've had decent luck with the trialware DVDFab, but it's not nearly as elegant as HandBrake." Here's an idea; Use the Windows version of Handbrake on your Windows system.

I've got to agree with BMACattack's statement.

Posted by: DKAnderson77 | August 14, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I think the point of this article is not Mac vs PC vs Linux but rather the ugliness and greed of the recording industry -- audio and video -- in their attempts to forestall our rights when we purchase their wares.

It really doesn't matter which system you're on, the tools are available (for free) to make backups and use the media on any device you want. Let's make sure that we don't let big media corporations from preventing our legitimate usage of what we are overcharged for.

Posted by: lennyp | August 14, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Okay, so getting the video off of a DVD is cake. What about just the audio? Many of my favorite live albums are only available on DVD. What is the best way to get the audio off of a DVD so I can listen to it wherever I want?

Posted by: slar | August 14, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

@wiredog: If I could find a tie with the DeCSS code on it, I'd have to wear that to an MPAA reception.

@BMACattack: Let's talk about DVDShrink. First, it hasn't been updated since 2004 (as one possible result, you can see people reporting issues with its performance in Vista x64). Second, its home page doesn't offer a download link, just a suggestion that you search for the file online. That's a little too sketchy for me to endorse.

@DKAnderson77: Could you specify those two programs? That would be more helpful than merely attesting to their unnamed existence. As for using HandBrake in Windows... did you miss the part where I noted that it can't decrypt commercial DVDs? Just because a program is available for Windows and OS X doesn't mean it has the same feature set on both platforms. Just ask anybody who's had to put up with Quicken for Mac!

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | August 14, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

The only way to get people to start paying for movies is to STOP PRODUCING CR@p.

The only time I go to the theater is to watch a movie I enjoyed by downloading for free.

For instance, the new Harry Potter movie was so bad that I never bothered to go and waste my time in a theater... Savings of about $20 for a movie/drink.

Posted by: indep2 | August 14, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

@Rob Pegoraro

Yeah that is kind of sketchy. I also thought it was open source, but I was totally wrong. My apologies. I get Mac envy because I don't have a trillion dollars to buy a laptop.

Posted by: BMACattack | August 14, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm not the first to adopt any technology, and even I can see how silly this is.

Too much of the movie industry is still living in the 50's. We're not Ozzie and Harriet (and never were). We are going to get our movies in the most convenient way, whatever that happens to be for a person.

Movie studios, wake up! Make it easy for a person to get the movie legitimately at a reasonable price! You'll sell more movies that way, as well as building up good will. Alienating your customers is bad business, as well as foolish.

Posted by: PubPeople | August 14, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Most everyone is unwilling to pay more than a few dollars to watch a movie on DVD.

Buying a movie on DVD means having to repeatedly press your remote to get past the stupid FBI warnings and countless previews. And then the disc languishes in an album, never to see the light of day again.

Having the ability to rip a copy (no pun intended) of a commercial movie and save it for your own use, allows anyone to rent more disks at a time to watch when it's convenient.

Trying to discourage "fair use" of their media will only make people like me inclined to no bother to get movies and thereby, not give Holloywood any revenue, period. I'm all for the industry making their fair share of profit and deadset against piracy. But making a backup of a disc you either bought or paid to use the media contained therein, seems reasonable to me.

Posted by: dlkimura | August 14, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm partial to DVD Decrypter, freeware, full of features, fixes region settings, etc. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to prevent a disk bought in asia from playing on a player bought in Europe...?

Posted by: dbh369 | August 17, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

How does this ruling affect Mondial (I think that is the spelling). I see their ads in PC World...they have devices for home use that rip DVDs to hard drives. Why is their stuff legal but then RealNetwork's software isn't? Are they paying a royalty or something? Just curious.

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | August 17, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Star, ImToo makes a program called oddly enough, DVD Audio Ripper. It's not free, but is priced right.

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | August 17, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

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