Legalizing Linux DVD Playback: Why Bother?

DVD playback on Linux is still illegal in many places, but guess what? Users soon won't care.

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I just finished writing that new book about Fedora 13 last night, so I'm feeling pretty good right now. It's nice to have a project like that put to bed.

(I'd put up the link, in a shameless act of self-promotion, but it's not online yet.)

Of course, when writing any beginner's Linux book, invariably the topic of DVD playback comes up, and I always wrestle with what to tell new Linux users about the convoluted legal mess that watching a DVD on a Linux machine has become.

For those who are unfamiliar, DVDs are encrypted with a content scrambling system (CSS) that is designed to prevent unauthorized machines from playing DVDs. What it's really for, of course, is to prevent unauthorized machines from copying the content of a DVD, so illicit copies of Did You Hear About the Morgans? won't be distributed freely across the Internet.

CSS is licensed by the DVD Copy Control Association, which works in lock-step with the Motion Picture Association of America to prevent copyright violations. The upshot of the CSS license is this: if you have a DVD playback device, then you need to license the CSS encryption code. No license, then no DVD.

The problem is, for Linux users, very few software developers have ever had the funds or the inclination to license CSS. Linspire touted the inclusion of LinDVD and PowerDVD within the Linspire 6.0 release, but it was soon pulled when the company realized no one was going to buy Linspire anyway. This is the reason other Linux distributors have declined to include a licensed DVD player within their repositories: they know full-well there's a slew of good, but unlicensed, Linux software out there (thanks to DeCSS), and no one is going to purchase a copy and pick up the costs for the CSS license. And there is little chance a Linux vendor is going to pick up the cost themselves.

Which puts these vendors in a precarious position. Legally, they cannot endorse CSS-unlicensed DVD playback software, especially in the US, because it would put them at odds with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, among other laws.

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