Copy Rights

I finally began to trust my 8-year-old son with my electronic equipment and software-he understands my warnings about disc care now that one of his favorite PlayStation titles got scratched so that it crashes at the same point every time. But now a DVD from my three-disc set of The Simpsons' first season has disappeared. And I know I didn't lose it. Perhaps one day the missing disc will show up at the bottom of the toy closet. But I can definitely appreciate the value of a $99 Windows computer program from 321 Studios, called DVD X Copy, that promises to "make perfect copies of your DVDs." Not surprisingly, 321 Studios has been in and out of court for about the last year. Last April, in a preemptive strike, the company asked the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to declare that its DVD copying program didn't violate the anticircumvention clauses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and was legal for sale under fair-use provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. Hollywood studios filed a countersuit charging that DVD X Copy does, indeed, violate the DMCA, so its sale should be prohibited. Their case was scheduled to be heard April 25. Meanwhile, 321 Studios began an antipiracy program, saying that it would offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone who misuses DVD X Copy to pirate commercial discs. The software company also points out that it tries to prevent digital piracy by including an unalterable digital stamp in all backup copies made using the program as well as a digital fingerprint that can be traced back to the program purchaser. Serial copying-making a copy of a copy-is impossible with the software, and each backup copy displays an onscreen notification, similar to the familiar FBI warning, that identifies it as a copy for personal use only. In our tests, the software worked as claimed. We installed DVD X Copy on a standard PC running Windows XP (no Mac support yet) powered by a 900-MHz Athlon processor and sporting 256 megabytes of RAM, a 40-gigabyte (GB) hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, and a DVD-RAM/R recorder. DVD X Copy can make what is essentially a duplicate of any DVD movie, including full menus, special features, and extras. But the discs aren't bit-for-bit copies. Besides the additional fingerprint information and onscreen notification, there's the 4.7-GB capacity limit of blank DVDs. Many movies are distributed on dual-layer discs. DVD X Copy divides such discs' chapters and other content over two blank DVDs. We can't say what's in the future for DVD X Copy-that's up to the courts. There's no doubt that it could be used to violate copyright by, say, making "backup" copies of rental discs. But who would have been hurt if I had been able to pull a backup copy of my Simpsons disc out of my library and slip it into the original case in my media rack?