Up until February 2004, 321 Studios' hugely popular line of DVD-copying products, including DVD X Copy
, DVD X Copy Xpress
, and DVD Copy Plus, gave consumers the power to make backup copies of DVDs--even those with copy protection. But when a San Francisco federal judge ruled that 321 Studios' products were illegal
because they circumvented commercial DVDs' antipiracy technology--not
because it's illegal to make copies, mind you--the party was over. Since then, 321 Studios has released new, ripper-free versions
of its line of DVD copying apps, but these programs are considerably less potent and cannot copy commercial DVDs.
The ability to create copies of the media you've purchased for personal use is a long-accepted facet of the fair-use doctrine in U.S. copyright law (at least, it used to be). However, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that it's illegal to break the CSS copy-protection mechanism employed by most commercial DVD movies. What does that mean? Most fair-use advocates say that the policy directly contradicts U.S. copyright law, but the DMCA seems to indicate that you cannot make a copy of a commercial DVD, even for personal use, and you certainly cannot give a copied DVD to anyone or watch copied DVD files on your computer. We assume that fair use will eventually catch up and be established as a safety valve for consumers (which has been the pattern with previous technologies, such as VHS), but for now, the territory is still uncertain and a bit dangerous.
Still, there is software out there--even freeware--that will circumvent the copy-protection schemes used on commercial DVDs and enable you to make copies of store-bought DVDs. However, CNET does not encourage or condone the illegal copying of commercial discs, and doing so places you in violation of current intellectual property law.
Now that 321 Studios' line of products can no longer copy protected DVDs, they join a competitive field of mainstream disc-copying programs that can duplicate unprotected DVDs--your own home movies, for example. Furthermore, there are a handful of inexpensive, full-featured suites that feature disc-copying components (again, of non-copy-protected discs). We've reviewed a few of them here; read on to see which are the best--and legal--to use for your copying needs.
Jon L. Jacobi is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to CNET Reviews. Don Labriola has been a frequent contributor to the mainstream computer press since 1991. Justin Jaffe is an associate editor for CNET Reviews, covering monitors, CD and DVD burners, and software.