Charles Arthur: The Geek

Sticky fingers, and other reasons to rip
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The Independent Online

However, my children also like sweets, and tend (being children) not to wash their hands before they stuff a Futurama DVD into the player. Result: discs with sticky fingermarks and a tendency to skip or pause.

This creates a problem. Either I have to become the DVD feeder in the household, or the children have to learn to wash their hands all the time - and neither is likely to happen before the children reach the age where they can buy their own DVD player.

There is a third option. Recordable DVDs are cheap; you can 25 for £10 or so. So why not make a backup copy of my precious DVDs? Then, when sticky fingers interfere, just bin it and make another copy from the carefully stored originals.

You could try, but you won't get far. Copying DVDs is frowned on by the powers that sell them for so much money that DVDs are now the primary income stream for films. There are programs that will let you rip DVDs, but it is all very illegal, say film companies.

Yet pause. Is it so unreasonable for me to want to back up this data? I've got my CDs "backed up" to MP3 and similar formats. The music business originally wanted to prevent CDs being "ripped". (And, strictly, it's still illegal to make an MP3 or other copy of a CD you own. Yes, really.) Had it succeeded, there'd have been no MP3 revolution, no online music business, and a big hole where download revenues are.

By that argument, what Hollywood needs if it's going to be able to sell films online is to make it easier, not harder, for people to make backups of DVDs. Fat chance.

Yet the reality is that I'm not about to start making dozens of copies of Futurama. Similarly, I don't own many DVDs, because we have a local library that hires them out, or there's the rental shop. And we have Sky+ to record films directly from TV. We've got so many ways to get at films without actually buying them that the whole idea of making copies doesn't occur - unless it's something valuable, like a birthday present.

This problem is only going to get worse, though, once the wrangling between the two groups pushing the next-generation video discs produces a winner. Presently, Sony's Blu-Ray is in the lead over Toshiba's and NEC's HD-DVD.

Somehow, I think that whichever wins, it's not going to be trivial to make a backup. Yet when you consider that either format will hold at least four times more data than a DVD-R, it's clear there'll be much more need for that sort of protection. If the only people who dare to buy high-definition DVDs are those without young children, they'll fail altogether.