Video Copy Protection and DVD Recording

Video copy protection and what it means for DVD recording and copying

With VHS VCR production at an end, the need for those that still have VHS tape movie collections to preserve them onto another format, such as DVD, is of increasing importance.

Copying VHS To DVD is straightforward. Whether you can make a DVD copy of a specific commercial VHS tape is what is questionable.

This article cannot recommend specific products that will allow the copying of commercial VHS tapes to DVD due to potential legal liability.

You can't copy commercially made VHS tapes to another VCR due to Macrovision anti-copy encoding, and the same applies to make copies to DVD. DVD recorders cannot bypass anti-copy signals on commercial VHS tapes or DVDs. If a DVD recorder detects anti-copy encoding, it will not start the recording and display a message either on the TV screen or on its front panel display detecting an unusable signal.

If you have an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV, consider getting Blu-ray Disc versions, if available.

Magnavox MDR-865H DVD/HDD Recorder (top) - Funai DV220FX4 DVD/VCR Recorder (bottom)

Some Practical Advice About VHS and DVD

If you still have a VHS movie collection, buy the DVD versions if available. DVD has much better video and audio quality than VHS, and many have extra features (commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews, etc.). With the price of DVD movies being reasonably inexpensive, replacement provides quality and saves time.

It takes two hours to copy a two-hour movie, as the recording is done in real-time, whether copying from a VHS tape or DVD. For example, it would take 100 hours to copy 50 movies (if you can), and you have to buy 50 blank DVDs.

Macrovision Killers

For VHS movies that are not currently on DVD or might not be anytime soon, you could try using a Macrovision killer. Place this box between a VCR and DVD recorder (or VCR and VCR) or an analog-to-USB converter and software if using a PC-DVD drive to make DVD copies of VHS tapes.

On a DVD Recorder/VCR combo, check the VCR section for outputs. See if the DVD recorder section has its own set of inputs and if the VCR can play while the DVD recorder is recording, independent of the internal VHS-to-DVD dubbing function.

Connect the Macrovision killer (aka video stabilizer) to the outputs of the VCR section and the DVD recorder's inputs. In other words, it would be like using the combo as if it were a separate VCR and DVD Recorder. Your user manual should explain how to use your DVD Recorder/VCR combo in this fashion (minus the Macrovision killer part) and offer an illustration.

This option could result in a successful copy, but it might not work in all cases.

The Legality of Copying Commercial VHS tapes and DVDs

Companies that make products bypassing anti-copy codes on DVDs or other video and audio content can be sued, even if such products have disclaimers regarding the use of such products for illegal video or audio copying.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Macrovision (Rovi, which has since merged with TIVO) has a target list of several companies to sue for making products that can be used for copyright infringement. The key to the ability of these products to bypass anti-copy codes is their ability to detect them.

Copy-Protection and Recording Cable/Satellite Programming

Cable and satellite program providers also implement copy-protection types.

One problem newer DVD recorders and DVD Recorder/VHS combo units have is that they cannot record programs from premium channels, pay-per-view, or on-demand programming.

It isn't the DVD recorder; it is the enforcement of copy-protection required by the movie studios and other content providers, which is also backed up by legal court rulings.

It's a catch-22 because you have the right to record, but the content owners and providers also have the legal right to protect copyrighted content from being recorded. As a result, it could prevent recording.

There is no way around this unless you use a DVD Recorder that can record on a DVD-RW disc in VR Mode or a DVD-RAM format disc that is CPRM compatible (look on the package). However, DVD-RW VR Mode or DVD-RAM recorded discs are not playable on most DVD players (just Panasonic and few others, so refer to user manuals).

On the other hand, Cable/Satellite DVRs and TIVO allow recordings of most content (except for pay-per-view and on-demand programming). Since the recordings are on a hard drive instead of a disc, they are not permanently saved (unless you have a massive hard drive). This option is acceptable to movie studios and other content providers, as you cannot make further copies of the hard drive recording.

If you have a DVD recorder/Hard Drive combination, you can record most programs onto the Hard Drive of the DVD Recorder/Hard Drive Combo. Still, if the program implements copy-protection, you will be prevented from making a copy from the hard drive to DVD.

As a result of copy-protection issues, the availability of DVD recorders is now minimal. It is also one reason why standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders are not available in the U.S., although they are available in Japan and select other markets. Manufacturers don't want to hassle the recording restrictions imposed in the North American market.

The Bottom Line

Chances are good that no one will knock on your door and arrest you for making a backup copy of a DVD if you can (as long as you don't sell it or give it to someone else). However, the availability of devices that enable you to make DVD copies are in increasingly short supply as the MPAA, Macrovision, and their allies successfully win lawsuits against companies.

The era of home video recording onto DVD is coming to an end as content providers prevent their programs from being recorded.