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Apple TV and the Law

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on March 22, 2007

Many posters commenting on my review of Apple TV have taken me to task for understating the varieties of video content that Apple TV can play. I have two replies, one practical, one legal.

Yes, if you can get content into the H.264 format that iTunes and apple TV want—and there are lots of ways to do this—you can display it on Apple TV. The problem that most people find the task of capturing video daunting, to say the least. They just want to watch the video, not jump through a bunch of technical hoops. The fact that some very technically oriented people with a lot of time on their hands will do it doesn’t change the mass-market realities.

Second, a lot of posters talked about the ability to view ripped DVDs. If you know where to look, you can find software that will copy the content of a commercial (copy-protected) DVD, which you than then transcode for iTunes. But readers ought to be aware that this is flat-out illegal.

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to use and criminal to sell such software. You may think that having paid for the DVD, you would have a right to make a copy for your personal use or to view it on a different kind of player. I wholeheartedly agree, but the law does not. In a case known as MGM v. 321 Studios, courts upheld Section 1201 and specifically rejected the argument that consumers had a fair-use right to make copies. (The Home Audio Recoding Act of 1992 created just such a right for conventional audio CDs.)

Representative Richard Boucher (D-Va.) has introduced HR 1201 (the bill number is no accident) that would create limited fair-use exemptions to DMCA. But the bill is strongly opposed by the content industry and faces a difficult challenge. And unless the law is changed, even attempting to make a copy of copy-protected material is a violation of federal law.

Reader Comments


March 22, 2007 2:21 PM

Over at Highbrid Nation we have been talking the Apple TV and how unimpressed we are with it. I just don't believe that most people will be able to get much out of it. Too many issues to deal with. I'll likely be a while before I make such an investment.


March 23, 2007 9:54 AM


Your response to the many posts and emails is interesting and on target. It is not that difficult to convert the videos to Apple TV format, and perhaps there will be more automated 3rd. party solutions for the mass audience. Also, it would be great if Bill 1201 or something similar would get passed. It is ridiculous that we cannot copy DVDs that we have purchased.

One more comment: I listen to many podcasts. There are 100,000 free podcasts on iTunes. Yes, they are of varying quality, but there are many high quality podcasts on a wide variety of subjects. I can't wait to get an Apple TV to view the video versions of these podcasts! Maybe I'm not a typical user of Apple TV / iPods, but the ability to view the numerous free high quality video podcasts in my livingroom with and Apple TV is a much overlooked and potentially spectacular feature!

Any feedback or other viewpoints are appreciated!



March 23, 2007 11:28 AM

Great summary of applicable law. Enjoyed the review as well. -j-


May 10, 2007 7:00 AM

Apple TV is a much overlooked and potentially spectacular feature!

Flash to apple tv guide

Stan Timek

May 15, 2007 4:12 PM

The Apple TV is a game-changing device. Right now if you have an HDTV or HD monitor to receive hi-def programming you need to pay more money to your local cable company or satellite service provider, make a risky purchase of either an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, or (and while this is the cheapest route, it will most likely not be one taken by many) place an antenna on your roof to receive local HD broadcasts.

The Apple TV allows you to view HD video in 720p at 24fps. There are a number of places to download from, not the least of which is the iTunes store. More shows will be available from Apple, just give them some time to work out the contracts.

In the mean time, check out the web and see what amazing stuff is available for free or for a small fee that you can watch on you HDTV sitting on your couch - not at your desk peering into your computer monitor.

Stan Timek

online shopping

July 28, 2007 5:27 AM

Here's what I think : Apple is trying to sneak in to the video market. Just like they did with the iPod, they want to do with TV. They want to have iTunes sell downloadable videos at the fraction of the price, and use the quality and hardware of the Apple TV to help you copy it to DVD. They'll probably also have some pay-per view option. Very clever, if you ask me. I bet in 2 years time, at the most perhaps, this will be shown to their exact strategy. They're just experimenting right now, but this is their ultimate plan and I hope they do it – they've done very well in making music affordable again. Maybe they can do the same thing with video and DVD.

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