Apple TV and the Law

Stephen Wildstrom

Many posters commenting on my review of Apple TV have taken me to task for understating the varieties of video content that Apple TV can play. I have two replies, one practical, one legal.

Yes, if you can get content into the H.264 format that iTunes and apple TV want--and there are lots of ways to do this--you can display it on Apple TV. The problem that most people find the task of capturing video daunting, to say the least. They just want to watch the video, not jump through a bunch of technical hoops. The fact that some very technically oriented people with a lot of time on their hands will do it doesn't change the mass-market realities.

Second, a lot of posters talked about the ability to view ripped DVDs. If you know where to look, you can find software that will copy the content of a commercial (copy-protected) DVD, which you than then transcode for iTunes. But readers ought to be aware that this is flat-out illegal.

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to use and criminal to sell such software. You may think that having paid for the DVD, you would have a right to make a copy for your personal use or to view it on a different kind of player. I wholeheartedly agree, but the law does not. In a case known as MGM v. 321 Studios, courts upheld Section 1201 and specifically rejected the argument that consumers had a fair-use right to make copies. (The Home Audio Recoding Act of 1992 created just such a right for conventional audio CDs.)

Representative Richard Boucher (D-Va.) has introduced HR 1201 (the bill number is no accident) that would create limited fair-use exemptions to DMCA. But the bill is strongly opposed by the content industry and faces a difficult challenge. And unless the law is changed, even attempting to make a copy of copy-protected material is a violation of federal law.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.