CDs and DVDs have been part of the public scene for long enough now that playing music or movies from a disc has become ubiquitous. What hasn't changed is the lack of information people have as to the CD and DVD copyright laws in effect. These copyright laws carry harsh penalties, so it's important to know your rights and obligations for the CDs and DVDs you own.
According to the copyright laws, you own the commercial CD or DVD as your property once you buy it---but only the physical shell (in this case, the disc). The material on the disc---be that music or movies---is under copyright and remains the property of those who created it (e.g. the artists or movie studio). This is the basic legal tenet from which all else flows.
Duplicating Rights: CD
Making a copy of a CD for personal use (i.e. as a backup) is copyright infringement according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Any copying of music to a CD done on a computer---whether the copying is a single song or an album---constitutes copyright infringement. The RIAA bases this on the Copyright Act of 1976.
Duplicating Rights: DVD
Many people make copies of DVDs for personal use, and many software programs are sold for this purpose. However, according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), it's illegal to break the copy-protection system employed by most commercial DVD movies. Therefore, it's illegal to copy a commercial DVD for any purpose whatsoever.
Copy Programs for DVDs
Software is available to make a disc copy of any or all of the contents of a commercial DVD. However, companies making this software have been taken to court. For example, 123 Studio was forced to remove the ability of their DVD-copying software to work with copyright-protected DVDs. This effectively enforces the copyright law so that the DVD you purchase is the one and only copy you can legally own.
Copy Programs for CDs
As with DVDs, readily available software will make a disc copy of any or all of the contents of a commercial CD. Unlike the case with DVD software, however, no attempt has been made to restrict the use of CD-copying software. Instead, the industry has relied on digital rights management to protect the music and restrict how it can be used by the purchaser. The restrictions keep it from being copied to a disc, to other computers or to portable players. This effectively enforces the copyright law.
Regardless of copyright law, making a copy of a CD or DVD for personal use is a well accepted practice, for which the odds of getting into legal trouble are nearly nil. That, of course, depends on the sensible condition that you make a copy only for your own use, and not for selling online or through a store. Using common sense is the best way to stay out of trouble with copyright laws.
The copyright laws might seem a bit dubious and confusing. Nevertheless, it's important to realize that the law tends to come down on the side of the legal copyright owner. This could result in huge fines and even jail time for an individual who gets caught in a copyright infringement.
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