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, you may want to consider preserving your VHS tape movie collections onto another format, such as DVD. Copying VHS to DVD is straightforward. Whether you can make a DVD copy of a commercial VHS tape is questionable.

This article doesn't recommend products that 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. The same applies to making 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 won't start the recording. Instead, it displays a message, either on the TV screen or on its front panel display, that it detected 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)
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Some Practical Advice About VHS and DVD

If you have a VHS movie collection, buy the DVD versions, if available. DVD has better video and audio quality than VHS, and many have extra features (such as commentaries, deleted scenes, and interviews). 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 takes 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 use a Macrovision killer. Place this box between a VCR and a DVD recorder (or a 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 and VCR combo, check the VCR section for outputs. See if the DVD recorder section has a 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 (also called a video stabilizer) to the VCR section's outputs and the DVD recorder's inputs. In other words, it's like using the combo as if it were a separate VCR and DVD recorder. The user manual should explain how to use your DVD recorder and 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 that bypass anti-copy codes on DVDs or other video and audio content can be sued, even if these 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 companies to sue for making products that can be used for copyright infringement. The key to these products' ability to bypass anti-copy codes is their ability to detect the codes.

Copy-Protection and Recording Cable and Satellite Programming

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

One problem newer DVD recorders and DVD recorder and VHS combo units have is that these can't record programs from premium channels, pay-per-view, or on-demand programming.

It isn't the DVD recorder. It's 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 have the legal right to protect copyrighted content from being recorded. As a result, it could prevent recording.

There's no way around this unless you use a DVD recorder that records 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 (only Panasonic and few others, so refer to the user manuals).

On the other hand, cable and 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, recordings aren't 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 and hard drive combination, you can record most programs onto the hard drive of the DVD recorder and hard drive combo. Still, if the program implements copy-protection, you are prevented from making a copy from the hard drive to the DVD.

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

The Bottom Line

The chances are good that no one will knock on your door and arrest you for making a backup copy of a DVD (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 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.

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