Video Copy Protection and DVD Recording

Video Copy Protection and What it Means for DVD Recording and Copying

Magnavox MDR-865H DVD/HDD Recorder (top) - Funai DV220FX4 DVD/VCR Recorder (bottom)
Images courtesy of Amazon.com

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 actually straightforward, whether you can make a DVD copy of a specific commercial VHS tape is what is questionable.

You can't copy commercially made VHS tapes to another VCR due to Macrovision anti-copy encoding, and 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 will not start the recording and display a message either on the TV screen or on its front panel display that it is detecting an unusable signal.

Some Practical Advice About VHS and DVD

If you still have a VHS movie collection, buy the DVD versions, if available, especially if they are films you watch on a regular basis. Since DVD has much better video and audio quality than VHS, as well as many having supplementary features (commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews, etc...), and with the price of DVD movies being fairly inexpensive, replacement provides quality and saves a lot of 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 are actually able to do so) and you still have to buy 50 blank DVDs.

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

Macrovision Killers

For VHS movies that are not currently on DVD or may not be anytime soon, you can try using a Macrovision Killer, which is a box that can be placed between a VCR and DVD recorder (or VCR and VCR) or a analog-to-USB converter and software if using a PC-DVD drive to make DVD copies of VHS tapes..

If you use a DVD Recorder/VCR combo, check if the VCR section has its own set of outputs and if the DVD recorder section has its own set of inputs and that the VCR can play at the same time the DVD recorder is recording, independent of the internal VHS-to-DVD dubbing function.

You would then connect the Macrovision Killer (aka Video Stabilizer) to the outputs of the VCR section and the inputs of the DVD recorder section. 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 may result in a successful copy, but it may not work in all cases.

The Legality of Copying Commercial VHS tapes and DVDs

Due to potential legal liability, the author of this article cannot recommend specific products that will allow copying of commercial VHS tapes to DVD.

As part of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, companies that make hardware and software products that can bypass 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.

Several companies that make products that enable DVD-to-DVD, DVD-to-VHS, and/or VHS-to-DVD copying are on the target list to be sued by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Macrovision (Rovi - which has since merged with TIVO) 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

Just as you can't make copies of most commercial DVDs and VHS tapes, new types of copy-protection are being implemented by Cable/Satellite Program providers.

One problem newer DVD recorders and DVD Recorder/VHS combo units have is that they are unable to record programs from HBO or other premium channels, and definitely not Pay-Per-View or On-Demand programming, due to copy-protection to block recording onto DVD.

This isn't the fault of 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 is a "Catch 22". 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, the ability to make a recording may be prevented.

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, keep in mind that DVD-RW VR Mode or DVD-RAM recorded discs are not playable on most DVD players (just Panasonic and few others - refer to user manuals). Check out more details on DVD recording formats.

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

If you have a DVD recorder/Hard Drive combination, you should be able to record your program onto the Hard Drive of the DVD Recorder/Hard Drive Combo, but if copy-protection is implemented within the program, 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 very limited.

This is also one of the reasons that 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 that no one will knock on your door and arrest you for making a backup copy of a DVD if you are able to (as long as you don't sell it or give it to someone else). However, 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 making software and hardware that enable the bypassing of anti-copy codes on DVDs, VHS tapes, and other programming sources.

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

For details on what DVD recorders can and cannot do, check out our DVD Recorder FAQs