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Is It Legal to Backup Copyrighted Media?

The law is a tricky thing to grasp at the best of times and has many grey areas. That stands true when it comes to backing up copyrighted media. When you buy a DVD or a CD, everything on the disc is under copyright. However, since you’ve paid money for it, shouldn’t you be able to make personal copies of it? Say the disc gets damaged and becomes unreadable; you’ve lost money and now can’t access something you’ve paid for. This article will explore the laws of backing up copyrighted media and how the argument would hold up in court.
Before beginning, bear in mind that law can vary widely from country to country, so don’t assume that the information herein is going to necessarily apply to you.
First, let’s look at the UK. The government recently made it legal for people to make copies of their media for personal use. However, the caveat here is that it is still illegal to break the Technical Protection Methods (TPM) of the disc in order to do so. The majority of media will be secured with TPM in order to make it harder for people to distribute it widely – like on file sharing websites, for example.
Ripping a CD to your computer is legal because there isn’t TPM stopping you from doing so, but there is on media like DVDs and Blu-rays. Pop one of them into your computer and you won’t be given the option to rip it to your files. Essentially, if a DVD came without TMP then you could make personal copies of it without issue. However, since nearly all of them do, then making copies is a no go as removing the TPM would be breaking the law.
The government report issuing the change stated that "of the permitted acts considered in this document, private copying is the exception: the UK has a choice as to whether to provide a means of access”. This essentially means that it is the government’s right as to if it allows you to remove the TPM on your media.
The situation is essentially the same in the US. Derek Bambauer, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Arizona, told Lifehacker that “the moment you crack DRM (Digital Rights Managemnt) to rip the DVD, you've violated Title I of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 17 U.S.C. 1201 prohibits circumvention of DRM”.
The bottom line is that it probably won’t be legal for you to copy something like a film to your computer. However, some courts are trying to change the situation. Ripping music to your computer used to be illegal until the Recording Industry Association of America allowed the law to pass. The Motion Picture Association of America is much less willing to budge on the law. Backing up your media digitally is becoming a more common, so the law may change on this eventually. There are some online stores that offer games without any copy protection, so perhaps the same thing might happen with films eventually. Until then, though, removing the disc protection is an illegal act.


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