The exceptions to the U.S. copyright law (Fair Use and the TEACH Act) allow instructors to use video clips in online classes similarly to how they might in face-to-face classes. You might assume, then, that it is legal to take video clips from DVD’s and put them online for a class. But if I were to take a DVD video clip and post it in my Blackboard class, I might be breaking federal law.
This is because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). DVD video is encrypted: it is encoded like a spy might encode a message. This means only DVD players which know the code are able to decrypt the video and play it. If I were to copy the video files off of the DVD and into the Blackboard class, they wouldn’t be playable, because they would still be encrypted. To decrypt the video files and make them freely playable, I would need to “break” the encryption. In other words, I would need to skirt around the protection measure meant to keep me from accessing the video.
There are free software programs available that will decrypt (“rip”) the video for me, solving the problem in just minutes. However, the DMCA has an anti-circumvention provision, which says it is illegal to break the access protection on digital media. So although my use of the video is legal, and the software designed to access the video is freely available, I would be breaking federal law if I were to use it.
So, does that rule you out? Would it be illegal for you to do the same thing? Not necessarily. Every three years, the Library of Congress issues exemptions to the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. Currently, the exemptions make circumvention of DVD encryption legal in a few cases:
Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:
(i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
(ii) Documentary filmmaking;
(iii) Noncommercial videos
Quote taken from http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2010/10-169.html
Please allow me to decrypt, or decode, the quote for you. Ripping a DVD video is lawful if the video is going to be used for the purpose of education by a college or university professor, or by a college or university film student. Because I am not a professor, I cannot rip a video for use in a class. Similarly, graduate TAs and high school teachers could not legally rip a video. But if you are a professor, you can rip a video for use in your class. Even then, you can only do so for the “incorporation of short portions of motion picture … for the purpose of criticism or comment”. So you can’t do entire movies, and not just for entertainment purposes.
As an aside, notice that there is no exemption for use by commercial online streaming video services. One has to hope that Netflix is getting unencrypted video files directly from rights holders. If it is instead sourcing its streaming video from encrypted DVD’s, its employees are breaking the law, notwithstanding streaming contracts it may hold.