Documentary filmmakers and producers of non-commercial videos can now legally rip DVDs to their hard drives to use movies as source for their own works. The new rules come only days after a court found that copyright laws shouldn’t use DRM restrictions to prevent legal use.

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The U.S. Copyright Office published six new exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) anti-circumvention clause today which should make it far easier for online filmmakers to legally use commercial DVDs. Up until now, filmmakers were actually breaking the law when ripping DVDs to get footage because the act of ripping entails circumventing copy-protection measures.

However, under the new rules, it’s legal to circumvent such measures if you’re a documentary filmmaker or if you intend to use the material for “noncommercial videos.” The EFF, which was actively pushing for these exemptions, is celebrating them as a huge success on its blog, with the organization’s senior staff attorney Corynne McSherry quoted as saying:

“Noncommercial videos are a powerful art form online, and many use short clips from popular movies. Finally the creative people that make those videos won’t have to worry that they are breaking the law in the process, even though their works are clearly fair uses. That benefits everyone — from the artists themselves to those of us who enjoy watching the amazing works they create.”

Critics have long pointed out that the DMCA can be abused to essentially take away rights otherwise granted. In this case, documentary filmmakers and YouTubers alike have always been protected by Fair Use, as long as their videos fulfill certain criteria. However, exercising those rights was in many cases not possible without ripping DVDs, which forced them to break the law.

The new exemptions come only days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling questioning whether the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions can be used at all to restrict use cases that would otherwise be perfectly legal. In its ruling, the court wrote:

“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.”

In other words: Ripping a DVD to make a backup copy is perfectly legal, ripping it to sell copies is not — at least based on this decision. Maybe the DMCA is finally catching up with reality, after all.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ToastyKen.

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  1. [...] used for educational, non-commercial purposes. Bypassing encryption on said videos is now legal. NewTeeVee has more on this portion of the rule [...]

  2. [...] used for educational, non-commercial purposes. Bypassing encryption on said videos is now legal. NewTeeVee has more on this portion of the rule [...]

  3. [...] used for educational, non-commercial purposes. Bypassing encryption on said videos is now legal. NewTeeVee has more on this portion of the rule [...]

  4. woo7


  5. [...] The U.S. Copyright Office today clarified how it plans to enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, making new exemptions for things like jailbreaking iPhones and ripping DVDs. [...]

  6. [...] the rest here: New DMCA Exemptions: Ripping DVDs for Online Video Now Legal This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged breaking-the-law, creative, even-though, [...]

  7. Actually, i’ve used ifunia dvd ripper on my mac for a long time.

  8. This is a good news I think… although I am not planning on jailbreaking my iPhone anytime soon but I think it is cool to install third-party apps onto your iPhone.

  9. Don’t we need further rulings from the U.S. Copyright Office to get full rights to rip DVDs? In the new exemption list, I don’t see an exemption for ripping DVDs for personal backup copies or to store and play on a computer. It looks like only short excerpts can be taken for various creative purposes. Like I do with my music CDs, I would love to be able to rip my movie DVDs and get them into iTunes and my iPod (or, especially, the iPad I don’t have yet), but I don’t see that these exemptions will open that door. Here’s the text:

    “(1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:

    (i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
    (ii) Documentary filmmaking;
    (iii) Noncommercial videos.”


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