Can you PC replace your cable/satellite subscription? Part II

In the first entry of this series, I explained some of the legal ways to get your television shows legally. I feel bad that I forgot to mention Netflix. You can watch some movies instantly using their service.

Now into the hazy world of ‘questionable’ ways to get television, music, and movies. What I talk about here and how you feel it applies will depend on how you interpret it. The reason for this is that the laws in our country are designed to deal with tangible and firm things like printed books, records, and actual reels of film. These laws were written before computers were common and before written, recorded, and filmed material could be transferred all over the world within minutes.

Many laws have been written to try to close the gap between written law and technology, but they mostly fail miserably. Most prominent of this legislation is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA was written by Congress, therefore it was written by people who are generally ignorant of technology (in my opinion) and who are heavily influenced by lobbyists. Lobbyists are paid by companies like RCA, Paramount, Sony, etc. So, who do you think the DMCA favors? Correct.

With that history out of the way, we can move forward with our review of the blurry area: copies of compact discs, DVDs, and other material you own. When you buy a CD, you do not get unlimited rights to do whatever you want with it. You only get a copy that you can listen to, or watch if it is a DVD.

Now, like with an article in a newspaper, there is such a thing as ‘fair-use’ that lets you use pieces of the article for parody, discussion, etc. However, you cannot reproduce the whole work without permission. That is just plagiarism. With a CD/DVD, you are allowed to make a ‘backup copy for archival purposes’ as long as you own a legal copy of the original work.

Here is the ironic part: you cannot make a backup copy of the CD/DVD if it has any kind of copy protection, according to the DMCA.

So, it is legal to have a backup according to law, but you cannot make that copy. Kind of twisted isn’t it? To my knowledge, there is no significant challenge to this contradiction so that we can know what is illegal and what isn’t.

I have gone over all of this explanation to say that if you can legally make copies of DVDs and CDs, then you could rip them to your laptop or desktop computer. Once they are on your hard drive you can watch them any time you like and not have to worry about the discs becoming scratched or lost. The discs will be safely stored in your closet.

With more and more television shows being released on DVD as complete seasons and some complete series’ runs, you could easily pick up your favorites, rip them to your PC and watch them at your leisure.

For that matter, you could find a site to download recordings of your favorite new shows and keep them on your drive. Networks say that this is illegal, and we geeks say it is no different than using a VCR to record from TV like many people did less than 5 years ago.

Use your own judgment, as I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Tread carefully and read up before you make any decisions about whether to rip anything or download episodes of shows.