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.
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