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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Rip 'em a new one
An inexpensive DVD ripper can save you money, not time.

On the back of the CD, in tiny letters was this warning, "*This program is not intended for the purpose of making illegal copies. Consult your local laws."

I can't believe I found a DVD ripper at Wal Mart in Levittown this week. The single disc program cost less than seven dollars - heck, that's less than the five pack of underwear I put it next to in my shopping cart.

The disc was for sale two aisles away from where the store was selling DVDs for more than $20 and music CDs for about $15.

On the front cover of the software in big letters were the words "Replicate DVD Movies Without a DVD Recorder!" On the back, in tiny letters was this warning, "*This program is not intended for the purpose of making illegal copies. Consult your local laws."

Yeah, right.

This has to be the worst nightmare of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Both groups are spending millions lobbying Congress. Millions more trying to bully Americans with lawsuits. And millions more on top of that on hookey advertising featuring famous millionaire actors and singers.

All in an effort to convince us that pirating copyrighted material is wrong and costing their industries jobs.

Their effort is doomed to fail, but not without a few costly victories.

For instance, the FCC agreed this week that future HDTV signals can carry special electonic flags to block people from digitally recording broadcasts.

The FCC never said how this is any different from shoving a tape into your VCR and taping "The Simpsons," "The West Wing" or "CSI" now.

The technology may have changed. The images sharper and sound cleaner.  But it's the same thing. Who owns those airwaves anyway?

Meanwhile, Napster - the Internet service that started peer-to-peer networking - returned in a new pay-for-download format last week. But at .99 cents per song - $9.95 per album - you'd be spending the same amount of money to download music as you would to buy a CD in a store.

When are these industries going to wake up and realize that just as technology has cut their cost for producing and distributing movies and music, they should be passing those savings along.

Rampant piracy of music and movies is an indication that the market will no longer bear the prices that record companies and movie studios feeling like overcharging consumers. They have simply become victims of their own greed.

Ever since the days when you could hook up a tape recorder into your stereo system, people have been copying music and giving it to their friends. The tools have changed, but the purpose of the piracy remains the same.

As for the program I purchased - Swift Jewel's DVD Ripper - I recommend it with a bit of caution. Installation was a snap and the interface is quite easy to master, but the program itself is a bit buggy.

The first movie I tried to rip was "Clerks," which marks the directorial debut of Red Bank, N.J.'s Kevin Smith. (Smith himself is shilling for Panasonic's new DVD recorder in TV ads.)

It took the program about three hours to copy the movie to my hard drive. But instead of splitting the movie into two sections of less than 700 mb each (so they could fit onto two CD=Rs), one file was 800 mb and the other 130 mbs. It also didn't record them to the blank CDs I put in the burner.

It could have been the 50 other programs I was running at the same time or a programming bug. So I made a few changes in what I wanted and tried again.

I set it up before I went to work on Friday and by the time I got home, I had a complete copy of the movie ripped to my hard drive and converted from its native format to mpeg (for more details on this process, go to DVDRhelp.com.).

I have other programs on my drive that let me cut the mpeg movie (BoilSoft's AVI and MPEG splitter) into smaller segments and burn them onto VCDs (ULEAD's DVD MovieFactory 2) complete with interactive menus.

All told, with a little dedication, it took me about four hours to make a pretty good copy of the movie I already owned. Even if I was making just minimum wage ($5.15 per hour) I could have bought the DVD for the time it cost me.

Which is entirely my point.

If the record and movie industries want to end piracy, they should drop their prices instead of hiring lawyers.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

Nov. 10, 2003