Today, we followed up our request urging the Copyright Office to allow consumers to break the digital locks on their DVDs so they can play them on their phones, tablets, and other digital devices. Along with the reply comments we filed today, we included the statements of nearly 400 users (warning: massive pdf) who stated for the record that they own lawfully made DVDs and would like to be able to space shift their movies exactly the way they can shift music from CDs to their iPods.
Our replies addressed some of the arguments made by the MPAA and the DVD CCA (the organization of movie studios behind the DRM present on DVDs and Blu-ray discs). Among those is the argument that granting our request will increase piracy.
This is unlikely to the point of being ludicrous. DVDs are already being ripped all over the world, and there doesn’t seem to be a lack of supply of digital copies. If there’s one source of an illicit online file, there might as well be a million. DVD “pirates” aren’t waiting with bated breath for an administrative proceeding at the Library of Congress to unleash a flood of more illicit copies.
The comments we’ve received from you (thanks, by the way!) bear this out. Among them, we see examples of people who want to shift movies from their DVDs to their digital devices, but don’t want to break the law. We know that the technological means for them to do that are out there, and the lack of a rulemaking certainly isn’t stopping infringers, so in the meantime only the law-abiding are restricted.
As we expected, the movie studios, as in years before, claimed that the exemption is also unnecessary, since people can just set up a video camera in front of their TVs in order to make a digital file of their movies. Moving right along from the absurdity of having this bizarre setup running constantly in your living room for the entire runtime of all the movies you want to own, the loss of quality would be huge. And quality matters, as the Copyright Office has noted when it granted exemptions for film studies professors. The things is, though, movies aren’t generally made for film studies professors. The obsessive detail that goes into getting the buttons on costumes right, or finding antique cars for background shots, isn’t for the benefit of a few hundred academics and their students. That’s all done for the benefit of the audience: the people for whom the movie was made, and who now have paid to own it on DVD.
Our comments also address a weird little argument made by the studios, which is that the Copyright Office can’t approve of the exemption because space-shifting DVDs hasn’t been proven to be a fair use in court. What makes this argument so backwards is that the reason straight-up space shifting has never been directly challenged in court (despite the fact that it’s clearly already happening all over the place) is that we all know exactly how those cases would come out. Copyright owners either openly admit that it’s legal, or know exactly how quickly and easily they’d lose on fair use grounds that they don’t sue in the first place. To turn around and say that the Copyright Office has to play dumb about the state of the law until a court case rules on it is ridiculous, especially since there’s no particular guarantee that courts will see cases that decide the blindingly obvious.
While it might have been possible n the past to say that a personal use space shifting exemption might possibly contribute to infringement, the realities of today make it clear that the only people being harmed by the current state of the law are law-abiding consumers.