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Is it illegal for me to burn DVDs for my own private use?

Winchester, VA |

I have a DVD burner and I can change the program to allow me to burn movies. Is it illegal for me to rent movies and burn copies for my own private collection? I'm not going to sell any but I might give a buddy a copy or two. Is this illegal?

The program I can use has ways around the copy protected issue. I know for a fact that it works.

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Attorney answers 6


You'll find that movies you rent are copy-protected, so you won't be able to burn copies for yourself or your buddies.

Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.


When you rent a movie, you have the right to watch it, not to make copies, even for yourself.


If the video is copy-protected and you bypass that protection, you are violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. You can be sued for that if the copyright owner finds out. Also, by copying the video, you are violating the terms of the rental agreement. You are violating the copyright owner's rights as well.

In other words, don't do it. You might also want to read the FBI warning that is usually shown at the beginning of movies.

[This communication is intended as general information and not specific legal advice, and this communication does not create an attorney-client relationship.]


Haven't you paid any attention to the FBI warnings in French before the previews on your Blockbuster rentals? Copying is verboten. Even if you have post-modern technology that lets you run hoops around the embedded code, you have to Just Say Nyet to the little devil whispering in your ear. If you want a copy, just spend the $9.99 or whatever it costs when the DVD hits the bargain bin. Or ask your kids for a copy for Father's Day -- then it would be free (for you, anyway).

Fair warning: if you get caught copying, even for home use, you might be sued. Just like the cheerleader who downloaded 16 songs to her iPod. Or the 11 year old who thought it was okay to copy (why else would your technology have that capability?) The MPAA basically has no sense of humor when it comes down to copying, since your hard-earned dollars pay for their Beverly Hills McMansions.


In addition to the comments of my colleagues, you need to understand that this is not a minor or technical act of infringement---this is considered to be a serious matter under the law. If you are sued for infringement---and such suits are increasingly common--you can be required to pay statutory damages of up to $750.00 for each work that you copy, plus attorneys fees. If the Court finds that your infringement was willful (i.e., intentional and/or in bad faith) you can be liable for an additional $150,000 in punitive damages for each work (and in this case, the Court in all likelihood would find that you acted willfully---ignorance of the law is no excuse). Further, this copying may well constitute a criminal offense, leading to fines of up to $500,000. (Criminal prosecutions are rare, and are usually limited to situations where large numbers of copies are made for commercial purposes--but there always is a risk of criminal prosecution). In short, don't assume you will get away with this---if you continually copy DVD's your illegal conduct may one day catch up to you in a big way.


I agree with my colleagues that it's unlawful to RENT a DVD movie and copy it in order to create your own movie library. Extending that conclusion, I also think it's unlawful to BUY a DVD movie and make a copy of it for anyone else.

What is LAWFUL, however, is to make a copy of a DVD movie that you have purchased if that copy is to be used solely for your own personal use -- such as to make a backup copy. That is not copyright infringement.

Moreover, the rule regarding bypassing the anticircumvention measures is clear: it is LAWFUL for an end-user to bypass anticircumvention measures attached to a copyrighted work if the circumvention results in a lawful copy of the work. The creation of a lawful copy occurs when the end-user has a "fair use" right to use the work -- such as making a copy solely for personal use.

This exact issue -- as applied to the circumvention of measures attached to DVDs -- has been litigated. See Realnetworks, Inc. v. DVD Copy Control Ass'n, 641 F. Supp. 2d 913 at 942 [ ] (“Against this backdrop, the court appreciates Real's argument that a consumer has a right to make a backup copy of a DVD for their own personal use. … As noted above, the DMCA's ‘user exemption’ is only for the individual who has gained authorized access and who may circumvent the protection measures pursuant to lawful conduct, such as to make fair use of the subject work.”).

The Realnetworks, Inc. v. DVD Copy Control Ass'n decision (decided by the very respected Judge Patel of the Northern District of California) built upon the Federal Circuit's Chamberlain Group v. Skylink Tech., Inc., 381 F. 3d 1178 at 1192 et seq. (cert denied, 544 U.S. 923) decision [ ] which clearly discussed the limited purpose of the anticircumvention statute. The Federal Circuit followed up Chamberlain with Storage Tech. v. Custom Hardware, 421 F. 3d 1307 at 1318 et seq. [ ].

In this admittedly cloudy situation, it is important to distinguish between those who sell machines and software that decrypt anticircumvention measures [which is UNlawful] from those who use those very machines and software to make lawful copies of works [which is LAWFUL].