Ask LH: Can I Get DRM-Free Movies And TV Shows Without Pirating?

Dear Lifehacker, I want to build an awesome media centre and download digital copies of my movies and TV shows, but everything is riddled with DRM these days. I don't want to pirate shows. Is there any legal way to get DRM-free movies and TV on my media centre? Sincerely, Down with DRM

Dear Down, Unfortunately, you've stumbled upon the biggest problem with today's movie and TV industry: nearly everything you see is encased in DRM, meaning home-built media centres are difficult to load up with content without breaking the law. Here's what the scene looks like right now.

Download DRM-Free Videos

There are very few places online that actually sell DRM-free content, and it's not going to be from major studios. There is some great stuff out there though: stand-up comedians including Louis CK, Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan have all started selling specials as DRM-free digital downloads. Archive.org has a big selection of DRM-free movies and news programs. There are also great DRM-free web series' and podcasts out there, on channels like Revision3, which are worth watching.

When it comes to movies from the big boys, you aren't going to find any DRM-free versions in legit stores. The movie and TV companies are obsessed with copy-protecting their content, which means things get a lot more difficult if you want to watch popular movies and TV shows.

Record TV Shows Yourself

If you want DRM-free copies of your favourite TV episodes, you can always record them yourself using a TV tuner in your computer and a good recording program. Most TV tuners will record free-to-air TV just fine.

Of course, this is a lot more work than buying and downloading what you want, and you can't actually record something until it's on TV, which means past episodes and movies will be a bit harder to come by (you can't just get a whole season at once and watch as you please).

What About Ripping DVDs and Blu-rays?

The most common way to get DRM-free movies and TV shows is to rip them from DVDs or Blu-ray discs you own. It's effective, gives you a lot of control over the quality of your video files, and has become pretty easy with tools like Autorip on Windows or Automator on OS X.

Unfortunately, this is technically still piracy. Most commercial DVDs and Blu-rays are loaded with copy protection, which is illegal to circumvent, and the Australian laws which allow format shifting for VHS tapes don't cover DVDs or other newer formats, even if those discs don't include DRM. Of course, you're less likely to get caught, and you aren't actually getting the movie for free, so many people consider it different to downloading the movie directly. We just can't technically put it under the "piracy-free" banner.

We wish we had better news for you. Sadly, this is the state of the movie industry these days. You have very few options for getting DRM-free content, and none of them are exactly convenient. If you want convenience, you're stuck with DRM. If you absolutely must have the videos on your computer, you're free to try the above options, but they're going to be a lot more work — at least until the movie companies get their act together.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Wouldn't an article like this be the perfect platform to get the movie studios opinion on these matters? The last paragraph basically puts the blame at their feet, yet we see no comment from them (or noted attempt to obtain comment from them) on the matter.

      Their argument would be that DRM prevents piracy...

      Of course, the actions of their legal departments says otherwise.

        Of course that's what their argument against offering DRM free videos would be, that's the entire point of DRM. There are better questions to be asked though, like "How does someone watch your films on an XBMC media centre?"

          I see you've not been paying attention over the last decade or so.
          Media companies care little about the portability, convenience or adaptability of their content, especially as they invest quite a bit in the hardware that decodes such media.
          As far as they are concerned, DRM prevents piracy, and anyone who circumvents it is a pirate, end of discussion. They even got shiny new laws put in to fortify that argument, and Australia, gullible as it is, accepted those laws without even a whimper.

          The part that everyone seems to miss, is the mandarins who set these policies are not in the business of providing you with entertainment,they are in the business of making money, from providing entertainment.
          It is simply a convenient illusion we have accepted by not identifying the difference between the artists and the businessmen. Naturally, they are happy to exploit this fallacy, by drumming out the 'piracy hurts the artists' crap, which might have been more successful if artists would stop publically declaring exactly the opposite.
          DRM is revenue protection, not content protection.

          The irony is that entertainment used to be free/cheap, until a few decades ago. Go ask your grandparents how much it used to cost them to go see Flash Gordon at the cinema, or go for a dance, or see a show.
          Even with inflation, the quarter/shilling in 1950 (approx $3 today) is a far cry from the $18 average of todays entrance fees. When you consider that a cinema may have to give 100% profits of the first week screening of a major film to the same studios that provide the DRM laced media, you realise the only way they will adopt flexibility in format and protection of revenue is if they can make money from it.

          When you spend billions on creating a 'fish in the barrel' market, do you care what the fish thinks or wants ?

          Last edited 25/04/13 2:49 pm

          I'd say the response would be 'we do not support XBMC at this time'. Just like if you were to ask 'why doesn't this file play on my Nintendo 3DS'. At the end of the day DRM-free is a platform most of them simply aren't interested in.

            That's fine, if they don't want to support the device I have, they shouldn't expect my money.

    You can also strip DRM from some purchased content so that it will play on all your devices without requiring special hardware. Some days it feels like you need a different device to play each format.

    Getting subtitles for a lot of DVDs requires ripping, and media devices like Apple TV don't support external subtitle files.

      Strictly that's illegal, per the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) s132APC(1): http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ca1968133/s132apc.html

        I find it funny that we rely on a law created well before the advent of these technologies. We really need to adapt and change these laws to properly police the current situation as technology is moving to quickly for the laws to keep up.

        Oh you law students, posting laws to back yourself up whenever you can. It's actually kinda hilarious, because so many law students do it.

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