By Davis Freeberg
Fair Use. What exactly constitutes fair use and what rights should we have as consumers? The very mention of the phrase seems to strike fear into the hearts of Hollywood execs everywhere. If you were to ask Hollywood, they would tell you that despite popular belief, you don’t actually own your media, but must repurchase each song if you want to listen to it on your cell phone or on your computer or if you happen to file bankruptcy.
Whether it was their crushing defeat in the legendary Betamax case or their more recent victory over file sharing, Hollywood’s tactic has always been to sue first and ask questions later. When they can’t sue, they lobby Congress to legislate their policies or they create attrocious programs that treat ordinary consumers like criminals.
Why Hollywood can’t see the profitable business opportunities that the digital landscape provides is beyond my grasp, but despite what you may have been told, it’s not the analog hole that is the problem, but rather the A-holes that run Hollywood.
One of my least favorite pieces of legislation was the Digital Millennium Copyright act. It makes it illegal to circumvent copyright protections, so that someone can not back up DVDs that they have legally purchased. Currently, the USCO is reviewing this provision and are offering consumers an opportunity to comment. With the introduction of the Video iPOD however, we’ve seen an interesting new program enter the market. The program is called the iPOD Media Studio and is made by Makayama Interactive. They are based out of Amsterdam which may make legislating them out of business a bit more difficult for the studios.
Despite the name of the program, the iPOD Media Studio also supports various smart phones and other “removable storage” devices. The program essentially captures DVDs as they play on your computer and converts them into mpeg4 files that you can then play on your iPOD, Computer or Smartphone. In their press release they indicate that the converted files have “an amazingly sharp picture and stereo CD-quality sound” and that you can fit over 100 movies onto a 60 GB iPOD.
Whether their program is covered under the fair use provision of the DMCA or not is still up for legal debate, but in an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, a Makayama spokesperson said
“It’s legal to make personal copies, it is not legal to circumvent the encryption in a DVD or TiVo file. Our software does not touch the encryption keys on DVD, but captures video, displayed on screen by an authorized software DVD player such as PowerDVD or WinDVD, from the screen buffer to a file.”
While the legal merits of the program are murky at best, this does offer consumers an alternative to paying the studios $2 for a degraded leftover copy of Desperate Housewives. Instead they can make a high quality copy of their own DVDs to watch at their leisure.