Thursday, August 31, 2006

Can you legally play an overseas DVD?

Virtually all DVDs have "region encoding", one or more codes on the disc that tells the player where in the world you are supposed to watch the DVD.

Needless to say, consumers are split into two groups: those who don't notice region encoding, and those who hate it passionately. For example, there are millions of fans of Japanese anime across all DVD regions, but anime DVDs are typically only released on Region 2 discs, making watching them difficult in the US or Australia. Hence, there are thriving black- and grey-markets for "mod chips" and other technologies for removing region encoding.

Kim Weatherall looks at the legality of playing DVDs from other regions in Australia. Although it is a very simple question -- "Can I legally watch this legally purchased DVD from overseas?" -- the answer is not simple at all.

After looking at various laws, including the Australian Copyright Act, the Aus-US Free Trade Agreement, and various legal rulings, the conclusion is that it is legal to watch those overseas DVDs -- but only just. It assumes two factors: firstly, that the copyrights on the computer code and video on the DVD disc, in both countries, are owned by the same person, and that the amount of video copied into the DVD player's temporary memory is not "substantial" -- whatever that means.

Weatherall's conclusion is sobering:

your right to play a DVD legitimately purchased overseas rests on as slender a thread as this: if a copyright owner can prove that a substantial part of the film is embodied in RAM at some given moment, they will be able to show that you are making a temporary copy, which is not covered by the section 43B defence.

Is this likely? Well, the question is effectively open. And Sony tried quite hard to demonstrate this after the fact in Stevens v Sony, using a demonstration of how much game could be played without keeping the disk in the machine.

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