How to rip a DVD to iTunes/iPod – legally

Via, comes news (I guess it’s “news” that the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are reporting what every Apple rumor site has been saying for weeks) that Apple will announce a rental option for some video purchased via the iTunes Store. However, there’s a new twist to the report today: At least one studio, 20th Century Fox, will start adding an MPEG-4 version to DVDs it sells, allowing purchasers to easily transfer the movie to iTunes or their iPod/iPhones. According to

“A digital file protected by FairPlay will be included in new Fox DVD releases, enabling film content to be transferred or “ripped” from the disc to a computer and video iPod. DVD content can already be moved to an iPod but this requires special software and is considered piracy by some studios.

Many people who read that last sentence will know what it means. But if you don’t know, you can find out by clicking over to this website to learn about HandBrake, an open-source, GPL-licensed, multiplatform, multithreaded DVD to MPEG-4 converter, available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows.

For the record, in my opinion, it’s crazy to call what you do with HandBrake piracy. Converting a file is not piracy — it may violate some obscure and legally-dubious terms of usage agreement, but it’s not piracy. You can do perfectly legal things with such a file. Or you can do illegal things, like try to re-sell it. The act of trying to re-sell such a file is piracy — not the conversion of the file.

Of course, I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know? Rather than a legal confusion, mine may be merely a confusion of logic. However, I find it an intellectual challenge to understand how I can be pirating something when I purchase a digital file on a DVD and convert the file into another digital format merely for the purpose of watching it on a digital device other than my TV, like a video iPod or iPhone — or on my computer without having to lug around DVDs. I’m not selling copies or even letting others borrow the movie — something I could easily do with a physical DVD. I’m merely transferring digital media I’ve purchased to another device for personal convenience — a variation of time-shifting, which has been determined to be legal. (I guess this makes me what Fake Steve Jobs calls a “freetard.”)

With music files, the industry has pretty-much given up their efforts to turn their customers into criminals when they decide to transfer their purchase between listening platforms. Recording industry schemes like Apple’s ironically-branded FairPlay DRM are slowly going away. (I purchase DRM-free music through Update: And now I can buy even more DRM-free music via Amazon according to this press release announcing that downloads from Warner Music Group’s vast catalog are available in MP3 format from Amazon starting today. My guess: Anticipate follow-up announcements from all of the other usual suspects, including Apple and Walmart.) It will take a decade or longer, but I’m sure movie studios and, if they actually become popular, eBook publishers, will go through a period of attempting to “protect” media files (translation: keep you from reading what you buy for a Kindle on any other eBook reader). Ultimately, publishers and studios will understand why it makes sense to let their customers buy digital versions of movies or books one time and then view/listen/read it on any digital platform they choose.

(Note: For those who think I might not understand the differing value of content offered in different forms, let me be clear: I’m referring to various “digital” formats of the same digital file. I’m not suggesting that I gain the right to download the movie free because I paid to view the movie in the theatre — however, I think that would be a clever marketing strategy by studios. Here’s a slogan for them: Buy it once, enjoy it forever. But unfortunately, if they did that, the writers wouldn’t have anything to strike about.)