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Sophisticated net surfers will have noticed that, despite my proclamations that "It can't be done," there is a plethora of commercial movies - the kind you buy on DVD - that are available for download on the various "pirate" services, of which Kazaa is (was) the most well known. Actually, when I say "can't," I mean "shouldn't" - but there is technology, both hardware and software, that allows intrepid souls to "rip" (copy) DVDs off the disk and onto their computers.
And while a legal case could be made for allowing users to trade movies with friends (and, as the old saying goes, a "friend is just a stranger you just haven't met yet"), allowing tens of thousands of friends is something else altogether, as far as the law is concerned. Making personal backups of commercial DVDs - where you keep a copy in the family vault just in case the kids scratch up the original - sounds like it should be a separate issue, but it isn't, as far as the US and EU law is concerned. Any attempt to "beat" digital copyright protection is a prosecutable offense - and the basis of the wholesale lawsuits by the entertainment industry against people who copy DVDs.
And yet they're out there. A day after a new movie comes out on DVD, you can download it from all sorts of "sharing services." Forget DVDs - a day after a movie opens at its world premiere you can find a copy! And these aren't copies made from a "master" filmed surreptitiously on a video camera in a dark theater - these are super-high quality editions, obviously copied from a studio copy of the film by an insider and distributed to the on-line sharing community," as these folks like to call themselves. This just lends credence to the theory that Hollywood is deliberately leaking these things in order to build up buzz among teens and young adults - the demographic that can make or break a movie. Once a "customer" downloads a movie, they either watch it on their computer screens as an AVI (the preferred format for downloaded video) or burn it to a DVD for watching in the comfort of their living room.
You don't have to be police lineup material to use the methods described below to copy DVDs, by the way. Maybe you want to make backups or copies of a wedding or Bar-mitzvah DVD to send to family and friends abroad.
So how do they - and we - do it? Shockingly, the methods Hollywood uses to produce DVDs are very similar to the methods we've been discussing these many weeks. While studios use software far more sophisticated than TMPENgc, for example, it's essentially the same deal all around - you encode the film (in our case, videotape) into an MPEG2 file, add some bells and whistles (menus, music, etc.), and burn the whole thing to a DVD as an MPEG2. From a technical point of view, making backups of DVDs is just a matter of converting and burning.
All DVD authoring programs give you the option of writing a file directly to a disc after the encoding/authoring process is complete - or writing the relevant files to disc for later DVD burning. Essentially, all you need to copy are two folders that appear on all DVDs, and contain all the files needed to play a DVD disc (as opposed to just an AVI file) on a computer DVD drive, or on a set-top DVD player connected to your TV (if you burn your discs properly). The most popular programs for DVD burning are the Nero Suite for PCs (http://www.nero.com) and Roxio Toast for Macs (http://www.roxio.com), both of which have all sorts of super features to help you get the most out of your DVD burner (analysis of both to come).
But about those Hollywood (and those professional wedding photographer production) DVDs, just how do you copy them? There is a whole slew of software that claims to be able to make 1:1 copies of DVDs of any type such as Alcohol 120% (http://www.alcohol-software.com). Alcohol, like most of the DVD to DVD backup programs, will make a disc image of your movie, which you can then burn to a backup DVD with Nero or Toast. Or you can bypass the image step and directly copy to a backup DVD, if the size is right (i.e, less than 4.7 GB).
Because of special compression methods used by movie makers, an image made by Alcohol (or one of the other many DVD copy programs) sometimes ends up being larger than 4.7 GB. If you want to get it back down to the 4.7 GB mark, there are several options available, including DVD Shrink (http://www.dvdshrink.org). DVD Shrink can either re-encode a DVD to compress it somewhat, or, more commonly, shed some of the extras on the disc, like music, menus, etc.
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