Portable Triviality

Fair use and DVDs remain top-of-mind in my world again this week thanks to a friendly reminder from Carlton, who is currently serving in the U.S. military. He points out that ripping all of his DVDs to a hard drive is a must because packing them for stationing in places like Kuwait and Iraq is simply not an option. While Carlton's case is more extreme than some, bringing DVDs along for the ride on trips for either work or pleasure isn't necessarily a desirable option.

I've done a fair amount of traveling with young children in the past year. Hotels just aren't a friendly environment for people under 5. Virtually everything in the room is something unsafe for exploration and there are only so many toys that fit in a carry-on bag or in the car. Plus there's the temptation to attempt a breakout for a mad dash down the hall. Sometimes, a familiar movie is the only thing for winding down any otherwise amplified little person.

Sure, you could bring just one movie, but what happens when it is exactly the wrong movie? Then there's a whole new level of unhappiness. Kids don't care about the logistical limitations of bringing the entire DVD library along. Whatever you bring, short of the full catalog, is sure to be wrong. And what if you happen to forget one of the 30 DVDs you packed as you are checking out?

Being able to take the movies along in a more portable format (like on a hard drive), or even take a backup copy along is considerably more sensible. This is where fair use comes in. It should be within our rights to haul those movies along for the ride in any format we choose, so long as we are only playing them back for personal use.

The movie companies fear piracy so much, they don't want to allow copying because everyone with an Internet connection will certainly turn into a distribution facility and the $20/DVD they once made will be out the window. Currently, many solutions exist for stripping the privacy protections from DVDs and storing them in every video format imaginable. Technically, all these solutions violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provides certain protections to content creators. By rights that means any ripping of DVDs done by a U.S. citizen could be considered a criminal act. As I mentioned previously, Europe isn't far behind with even more draconian laws.

How do we change this? I'm not sure how the process works outside the U.S. Here in the States, the best thing we can do is voice our concerns to the elected officials making these decisions. Speak up or continue to have your rights erode. Look beyond the relative triviality of being able to make DVD backups for road trips with the family. This is an issue far more pressing than who used what imagery in their campaign ads and yet I don't hear anyone talking about it in a public forum.