People who want to tinker with their DVDs in order to view the contents on tablets are out of luck, at least for now, thanks to a decision today by the U.S. Copyright Office.
The Librarian of Congress and Register of Copyrights today rejected a proposal to allow people to "space shift" by ripping DVDs. Technically, the officials didn't rule on copying, but on whether people should be able to circumvent digital rights management software in order to view movies without a DVD player. But given that virtually all DVDs have such software, the ruling prohibits people from legally reformatting movies to make them compatible with tablets, laptops or other devices that lack a DVD reader.
The digital rights group Public Knowledge was among those who asked the Copyright Office to allow people to crack DRM in order to watch movies on tablets. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to circumvent DRM in most situations, but also empowers the Copyright Office to make exceptions to the anti-circumvention rules.
"Since the late 1990s, consumers have purchased billions of motion pictures on DVD," Public Knowledge argued in its comments to the Copyright Office. "As entertainment devices move away from containing DVD drives, many of those consumers have a legitimate desire to transfer their lawfully acquired motion picture from DVD into a format that is accessible on these newer devices."
But the regulators weren't persuaded. Why not? For one thing, the report issued today says that people don't have the right to access material in a "preferred format."
"Indeed," says the report, "copyright owners typically have the legal authority to decide whether and how to exploit new formats."
The Copyright Office also said that people can purchase a peripheral device for their DVDs, or use "an online subscription service to access and play desired content."
Public Knowledge says the decision "flies in the face of reality." The organization is urging Congress to amend the copyright law to explicitly state that space shifting is a fair use.