Does the DMCA Really Prevent You From Backing-Up Your DVDs/Blu-rays?

dvd-to-ipod-mp4It seems that this slipped right under the radar.  More than likely it’s due to the fact that it’s a non-digital media related story, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling in the case of MGE UPS Systems Inc. vs. GE/PMC Inc. which, while related more to hardware, calls out the DMCA and it’s intention in regards to copyright law.

You can argue that backing up a DVD or Blu-ray movie does or does not fall under fair use however most of us who follow this debate at least fall on the same side in that argument.  As long as you’re not giving away or selling said movie, in most cases, your lone backup to a hard drive would be considered fair use under copyright law.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that it is illegal to break copy protection on our movies.  It’s not the backing-up that’s been illegal all this time, simply breaking the encryption on the disk.  Meaning that just making a backup makes you a criminal even though you purchased your disk, paid full price, etc.

While I’m not a lawyer by any stretch, there is one line in this unrelated court decision that could change that:

Merely bypassing a technological protection that restricts a user from viewing or using a work is insufficient to trigger the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. The DMCA prohibits only forms of access that would violate or impinge on the protections that the Copyright Act otherwise affords copyright owners.

What this means to me is that as long as I’m breaking that protection to simply backup my disk, an action which under fair use would not violate copyright law, then I’m no longer made a criminal for doing this and am free and clear to backup every movie in my collection.  As long as you’re not violating copyright law by giving away or selling the content you should be covered.

This is a huge decision.  Really it changes the way we look at media and companies like Kalidascape may actually be able to bring their products to market.  It’s a little early to judge that yet as I’m sure this will move up the chain to the next court in line where this decision could be easily overruled.  If it sticks however, it’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood reacts.  While copyright law should still protect their content, they’ve wanted to keep it as locked down as possible and this little tidbit may prevent that.

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About the author

Adam Thursby

Adam Thursby is the founder and creator of The Digital Media Zone.