New tool makes DVD copying easy

Hollywood says that it's illegal to burn a backup copy of your Austin Powers Goldmember DVD, and it builds in copy protection to stop you. But a small firm denies any kinship to Dr. Evil just because it markets software that lets anyone with a burnable DVD drive make an exact copy of a commercial DVD.

321 Studios LLC in the US has released DVD X Copy, a US$99 program that is the first to let users create a mirror image of an entire DVD on a second blank DVD. The copy even includes menus, special features, and enhanced audio, the company says.

The movie industry trade association Motion Picture Association of America contends that such products violate the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That law, currently under review, outlaws providing information or tools to circumvent copy-control technology, including the Contents Scramble System (CSS) used on DVD media.

But Robert Moore, president and founder of 321 Studios, says consumers have a fair-use right to make backup copies of DVDs they purchase.

"You as a consumer should have a right to make a personal backup copy of the DVD that you rightfully own," Moore says. "We are offering for the first time a tool that allows you to exercise that consumer right."

321's challenge to the DMCA comes as the 1998 law is tested in court for the first time. Russian software company ElcomSoft goes to trial this week on criminal charges of distributing a program that breaks copy protection on Adobe's EBook file format.

MPAA spokesperson Marta Grutka declined to discuss 321 Studios and DVD X Copy. But she says that people behind products that circumvent a DVD's scrambling technology "are exposing themselves to criminal prosecution" under the DMCA.

Shagging the MPAA

DVD X Copy is scheduled to become available at US retail stores next week.

During a recent demonstration of DVD X Copy running on an 800-MHz Compaq notebook attached to a USB 2.0 external DVD+RW Viper Drive, it took us about an hour to make an exact copy of the DVD Black Hawk Down.

First, we placed the original DVD in an external Viper Drive with DVD X Copy running on the notebook. A DVD X Copy dialog box popped up inviting us to "Copy Now." After we clicked "Yes," the software took about 25 minutes to capture 9.4GB of data from the Black Hawk Down DVD and transfer it to a temporary folder on the PC. Next, we were prompted to put a blank DVD disc in the drive; the program then transferred the contents of the temporary drive to the blank DVD (taking another 25 minutes).

Because a dual-layering technique allows commercial DVDs to hold more than 4.7GB of data, DVD X Copy prompted us to place a second blank DVD into the drive when the first DVD reached its capacity.

In the end, Moore says, the two DVDs together contain a precise copy of Black Hawk Down, including menus, special features, and enhanced audio.

During the copying process, 321 Studios takes three extra steps to appease its Hollywood critics. DVD X Copy inserts electronic controls into copied DVDs to prevent them from being duplicated further. It embeds a digital watermark that can trace the source of any file transmitted over the Internet to the software's licensed owner. And it inserts a disclaimer at the beginning of the recorded DVD, telling viewers that the disc is a backup copy intended for personal use only.

Oh, Behave

321 Studios is no stranger to controversy. Hollywood has had it under scrutiny since the 2001 launch of its first product, DVD Copy Plus, which makes lesser-quality CD copies of DVD movies. In April, fearing the MPAA's wrath, 321 Studios preemptively sued nine major Hollywood movie studios. The suit asks the court to rule that selling DVD Copy Plus does not violate the DMCA.

Moore believes that anticircumvention laws like the DMCA are unconstitutional. He cites the so-called "Betamax defense," a response to the motion picture industry's efforts to ban Sony's Betamax VCRs because they could be used to make illegal copies of movies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that, though some VCR uses do infringe on copyright, a banning the technology was not justified because it had sufficient noninfringing uses.

What's more, Moore says, DVD X Copy doesn't actually break the CSS on commercial DVDs.

Instead, 321 Studio intercepts the video and audio stream after a DVD player has decrypted the CSS code. Moore argues that all DVD players decrypt the CSS code when they play a protected DVD. Because it intercepts the signal after decryption but before the video is rendered, the product does not run afoul of the DMCA, he says.

Later this December, a San Francisco court is expected to consider a motion brought by MGM Studios, Sony Pictures, and Time Warner Entertainment to dismiss 321 Studios' suit against the Hollywood studios regarding DVD Copy Plus.

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