There are many types of data that you
might want to copy onto a DVD. Perhaps you want to take
a backup of files from your hard disk? Or you may want
to copy songs, video clips or a whole DVD movie.
Before you can do any of this you must obviously have
a recordable DVD drive. This may either be fitted into
your PC or it may be a freestanding device, connected
to the PC by a USB cable. Either way, in all probability
you will receive some basic DVD burning software with
the drive itself. While this software will almost certainly
be able to copy both data and movie files, there may
be some circumstances in which it can’t do what
you require. For example, it my not be able to compress
large movies which are usually supplied on high capacity ‘dual
layer’ DVDs to fit onto a lower capacity ‘single
layer’ recordable DVD.
Here we look at some inexpensive and free tools which
can help you make backups of your DVDs. Before you do
so, however, be warned: making DVD backups, even for
your own personal use, is a legal minefield. In some
countries, it is legal to backup a DVD that you own;
in many it is not. In some countries, backing up a
DVD is legal but decrypting it (removing its copy protection)
is not. Before going any further, see our commentary,
lower down the page, Yes,
But Is It Legal? and our separate
opinion piece, Copy
Protection - Who Needs It?
DVD Shrink lets you selectively remove individual language
soundtracks and other features before copying
DVD Shrink can either copy a complete DVD or it can ‘re-author’ the
disk by copying only selected parts. The output is saved
to your hard disk and can subsequently be burned to DVD
using appropriate software. The speciality of DVD Shrink
is its ability to make a dual layer movie fit onto a
single layer DVD. It may be able to do this simply by
stripping out the extra content - the documentaries,
featurettes, trailers, extra audio tracks and commentaries.
If that still doesn’t gain enough space, it can
compress the movie file itself. DVD Shrink also includes
decryption to allow you to bypass a source DVD’s
The user interface of DVD Shrink is pretty straightforward.
It displays the structure of the original DVD in the
form of a tree showing the main movie and any extras
as separate branches. It also shows each of the audio
tracks - for example, the various foreign language tracks
and audio formats such as DTS 5.1 - and you can select
whether to omit any of these to save space. It starts
by performing a brief analysis of the DVD then gives
you the option of removing region coding if present so
that it will play on any region DVD player. Finally it
copies the movie into a directory on your hard disk.
This may take only a matter of 20 or 30 minutes for a
standard length (90 to 110 minute) movie.
If you happen to have the Nero burning software installed,
DVD Shrink will conclude by giving you the option of
burning the movie to a DVD, otherwise you will need to
do that later using your DVD burning software. The help
file supplied with the software is a bit terse so you
may need to refer to the more comprehensive guides on
www.dvdshrink.info. Overall, this is an easy to use and
1Click DVD Copy has a very simple interface which makes
it easy to select the most commonly needed options
1Click DVD Copy lets you copy an entire DVD or selected
elements to a hard disk or burn them directly onto another
DVD. You can choose whether or not to copy the extras,
menus, subtitles and audio languages or omit them to
save space. It includes a copy of CopyToDVD 3 SE which
can burn music CDs and can backup data onto a CD.
It supports both single and dual layer DVD media. In
addition to removing extras to save space it can also
(in common with DVD Shrink) optionally compress movies
to make the contents of a dual layer DVD fit onto a single
The user interface is pretty minimal. It takes the
form of an onscreen disc with an Options button and a
Start button. When you click Options another disc-shaped
window pops up in which you can select the source and
target locations, which may be a DVD, CD or a directory
on your hard disk. There are also some check boxes which
can be clicked to remove extras, languages, DTS audio,
subtitles and menus. Once you’ve picked the options,
you just need to click Start to begin copying. This is
all perfectly straightforward as long as the source movie
is not encrypted. Otherwise, the only way to copy a DVD
is by using a third-party decryption program.
Personally, I find the interface of 1Click DVD Copy
a bit too minimal for comfort. It just provides a list
of options to omit without giving any details. For example,
it only gives me the option to remove all languages
where DVD Shrink lets you select specific languages to
remove with the amount of saved disk space shown against
each language. To be fair, I have to say that selecting
and deselecting options in DVD Shrink is definitely not
click’ procedure. It can be quite complicated.
So, if ease of use is your priority, 1Click DVD Copy
is a better choice.
CopyToDVD is a powerful CD and DVD burner that can copy
video, audio and data
CopyToDVD can be used to copy and burn all kinds of
data from your hard drive onto DVD or CD. For example,
it can burn data files, audio tracks or DVD movie files
which have previously been copied to your hard disk.
CopyToDVD provides ‘shell integration’ which
means that it adds some items to the popup menu that
appears when you right-click in the Windows Explorer.
This provides a quick way of locating and selecting the
files you want to backup and burn them immediately to
a DVD or CD.
You can also create a data CD by dragging files one
by one into a CopyToDVD window. The creates a data ‘project’.
A colour-coded bar in the window indicates whether the
project will fit onto a 74 minute recordable CD (650MB),
an 80 minute CD (700MB) or a 4.7GB DVD. In a similar
way you can create an audio CD by dragging and dropping
.wav, .mp2, .mp3, .ema, .ogg or .ac3 audio files into
an audio project. Real Media (.ra) audio files are not
supported. The audio files in the project can then be
burned onto a CD in a format which is playable in an
ordinary CD player. In our experience, however, there
can sometimes be a degradation in the sound quality of
copied audio. VSO tells us that this specifically affects
MP3 files recorded at 22KHz and the company is considering
a fix for this problem. In any case, there are plenty
of other perfectly good tools for creating audio CDs
such as the free Windows Media Player and RealPlayer.
If you have previously copied a file to disk using
a tool such as DVD Shrink or DVD Decrypter, these files
can be recorded onto DVD media as long as they fit. CopyToDVD
does not decrypt or compress video files.
VSO Software also has a separate product, Blindwrite ($29.99),
which copies unencrypted movies from a DVD to your hard
disk but does not decrypt encrypted movies. Blindwrite
can also do direct copies of one audio CD onto another
one; or of a DVD to another assuming the target medium
is compatible with the source (i.e. single-layer or dual
layer) and the movie is not encrypted. There is also
a free utility to convert DivX movies to normal DVD playable
movies which can be downloaded from the VSO web site.
Overall CopyToDVD is a useful general-purpose tool
for copying data, audio and video files from your hard
disk to a CD or DVD. However, it does not compress or
decrypt video files or allow you selectively to omit
features such as audio tracks and extras.
You may already have some tools which can copy certain
types of video and audio files onto CD or DVD. The free
for example, can copy various formats of computer media
such as RealMedia audio and video, Windows Media and
MP3. It can also translate computer audio files into
a format that can be played in an ordinary CD player.
Media Player also lets you burn audio or data CDs.
Audio CDs can be created from Windows Media (WMA), .wav
and .mp3 files. You cannot burn movies from one DVD to
another using RealPlayer or Media Player.
Don't forget that the free
RealPlayer can burn audio CDs
If you want to compress files even more than is possible
using tools such as DVD Shrink and 1Click DVD Copy you
can try converting them to formats such as DivX or Xvid.
In theory, a DVD movie saved in DivX format can be shrunk
small enough to fit onto a single CD. The mysteries of
DivX software are beyond the scope of this article. If
you want to explore further you might try SimpleDivX (http://www.simpledivx.org),
Gordian Knot (http://gordianknot.sourceforge.net)
or AutoGordian Knot (http://www.autogk.me.uk).
Be warned, however: in our experience, even ‘simple-to-use’ DivX
software can be mightily complicated. Moreover, DivX
conversion of a movie may take several hours and is by
no means guaranteed to produce flawless results at the
end. For more information on DivX software and other
DVD backup technologies, we suggest you visit the Doom9 site.
Yet More Software...
Here are some other applications which may be of use
when copying, compressing or burning DVDs
Roxio Easy Media Creator http://www.roxio.com
Backup DVDs and data files, compress
DVD movies, copy audio and burn CDs and DVDs
Nero 6 Reloaded http://www.nero.com
Edit and author video, burn DVDs,
edit and burn audio CDs, create photo slideshows and
If you have a recordable DVD drive and some software
to record DVDs, does this mean that you are on the High
Seas towards piracy? The answer to that is, ‘well,
maybe’. Or then again, ‘maybe not’.
There are, of course, plenty of legitimate uses for
a DVD recorder. If you want to back up your personal
data files or your home videos, then you are on safe
ground: it’s legal. On the other hand, the position
is equally clear-cut if you plan on copying Hollywood
blockbuster movies and selling them on the Internet:
But what if you want to make a personal backup of a
DVD movie that you’ve bought for safe keeping?
Or maybe you’d like to copy a DVD to your hard
disk of your laptop? Then again, what if you’ve
recorded a TV show onto your video or DVD player and
you want to make a copy of it to give to a friend? The
usual wishy-washy answer to these questions is that the
legality may depend on the laws of your native country.
But, come on, most of us know that in most countries
duplicating copyrighted materials, for whatever reason,
is likely to be frowned upon by the officers of the Law.
And yet, most of probably wouldn’t consider it
a very grave offence to make copies of a TV show or make
a personal backup of a DVD which we legally own.
The fact of the matter is that the legal issues in
many countries are not yet fully resolved. In the USA,
for example, it is legal to make a backup of an audio
CD but (possibly?) not of a video DVD. The crucial American
legislation is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of
1998 which outlaws devices or services aimed at circumventing
copyright protection technologies. This law appears to
be somewhat fuzzy around the edges, however. In 2004,
a San Francisco federal judge ruled that some DVD copying
products from a company called 321
Studios were illegal
on the grounds that they circumvented CSS (Content Scrambling
System) encryption technology. The San Francisco ruling
did not, however, state that DVD copying itself was illegal.
321 Studio responded by releasing a new DVD copying product
without decryption. But very few commercially available
DVD movies lack CSS encryption, so it is not surprising
that this product failed to achieve the popularity of
its predecessor. 321 Studio subsequently ceased operations.
A similarly named product called 123
Copy DVD is now
available from http://www.123copydvd.com.
This lacks built-in decryption but provides links to
a 3rd party plugin which does decrypt. The company claims
that its product is legal in the USA. However, when you
click the link to download the plugin, a message warns “Some
3rd party plug-ins not legal in certain areas around
In some European countries, it is either legal or at
least not definitely illegal to make personal
backup copies of a DVD. In Germany it is illegal to distribute
any software capable of evading copy protection. In Norway
the legality of breaking the CSS algorithm was tested
in 1999, when the algorithm was made public by Jon Johansen.
Mr Johansen cracked the algorithm in order to create
a program to play DVDs on computer running the Linux
operating system. He then posted his program code, DeCSS,
on the Internet. The movie industry took Johansen to
Court - and lost! In January 2003, the court
ruled that Norwegian citizens were free to make copies
of DVDs which they had bought legally. The Motion Picture
Association of America was far from overjoyed by this
ruling. In a statement they said: “ The
actions of serial hackers such as Mr. Johansen are damaging
to honest consumers everywhere. While the ruling does
not affect laws outside of Norway, we believe this decision
encourages circumvention of copyright that threatens
consumer choice and employment in the film and television
As you may gather, this is an area that is fraught
with legal pitfalls. We would therefore suggest that
you assume that, if in doubt as to whether or not the
law permits you to copy, decrypt or backup a DVD, you
should presume that it does not. It is legal in most
countries to use a DVD burning application which lacks
decryption capabilities. Many of these legal applications
claim that they allow you to copy DVD movies “for
your own personal use”. However, there are almost
no DVD movies which are not encrypted. Which makes you
wonder how people manage to use these legal DVD burning
applications without the use of some additional software
of less certain legality….?
WHAT THE SOFTWARE COMPANIES SAY….
We trawled around the web sites of some of the companies
who make DVD backup software to see what they have to
say on its legality. This is what we found…
“In some countries bypass protection is illegal
that’s why we didn’t include this feature.
You can try to find on internet some tools to make this
possible such dvddecryptor, dvd43, dvdidle but keep in
mind it is illegal and we have no responsibility over
the legal troubles you can have.” http://www.vso-software.fr/faq.htm
“In some countries it's still considered illegal
to copy a DVD, just as it once was to copy a music CD. Unlike
audio CD's, fair use laws don't allow for copies to be
made of DVDs because they are encrypted. The laws surrounding
the encryption of DVD movies is currently being challenged
in U.S. courts. We don't encourage or condone the use
of 1Click DVD Copy to make illegal copies of DVD's.” http://www.1clickdvdcopy.com/faq.html
“It's against the law to make illegal copies
of copyrighted material! You are on your own in regard
to any legal issues.” http://www.dvd-cloner.com
“You must check your local laws before making
a backup copy. Different countries have different laws
pertaining to this. We are in no way responsible for
your use of DVD Wizard pro. By ordering DVD Wizard Pro
you agree not to break any law pertaining to DVD copying.” http://www.dvdwizardpro.com
“Please Respect Artist Copyrights!!!
allows you to make copies of movies you own for backup
purposes. It is against the law to make or distribute
copyrighted material for purposes other than your personal
use. Please respect all copyright holders.” http://www.booyakasha.biz (who make a decryption plugin for 123 Copy DVD)
Confused by the acronyms, and technical terms? Use
our simple guide to cut through the jargon barrier
Codec Coder Decoder - software needed to support different
video and audio formats
CSS Content Scrambling System . To
a web designer, CSS means ‘Cascading Style Sheets’ but
in the DVD business it’s the name of the encryption
method used to prevent copying of DVD movies.
DivX This is a version of Microsoft's
MPEG-4 codec. An illicit version of MPEG-4 was released
with the name DivX ;-) The legal version is
now called DivX (without the smiley).
DVD5 is a single layer DVD. It can store a theoretical
4.7Gb (but actually somewhat less)
DVD9 is a dual layer DVD. Two thin recording layers
are embedded into the disc to store a theoretical 8.5Gb
(but actually somewhat less).
DVD+R This is a recordable single-layer
write-once DVD format. Check
which disk formats your DVD player or recorder supports
before buying DVD media.
DVD-R This is a recordable single-layer
write-once DVD format. More
widely supported than DVD+R. Once again, check which formats your DVD drive
DVD-RW This is a re-writable DVD format.
DVD+RW Another re-writable DVD format.
Once again, check which format your DVD recorder supports
before buying DVD media.
MPEG Moving Picture Expert Group - the people who set
the standards for digital movie formats.
MPEG-4 This is the name of the latest version of the
MPEG format. Highly compressed for more efficient disk
usage and transfer across the Internet.
Region Coding - encoding put onto DVDs to make them
playable only in specific countries. e.g. 1 = USA and
Canada, 2 = Europe, Japan, South Africa, 3 = Thailand,
Indonesia, 4 = Australia, New Zealand, South America,
5 = India, Africa, Russia, 6 = China, 0 = Region Free