Facts on Pirated DVDs

Updated February 21, 2017

DVDs are a prime candidate for piracy, with a 2008 study by Furturesource Consulting finding that one-third of respondents have made illegal copies of movies. Large-scale piracy is also an issue for the movie industry, with unauthorised copies of current theatrical, television and DVD releases sold to consumers, only some of whom know what they're actually buying.


Pirated DVDs are made illegally. U.S. copyright law protects the original authors of works that include movies and television programs. It gives them the exclusive right to copy, sell and alter those works. While it is legal for a consumer to copy a legally purchased DVD for a personal backup copy, nearly all other cases of DVD copying, or selling unauthorised DVDs from any source, are illegal.


DVD pirates use several different methods to produce the DVDs. One of the simplest methods is using a DVD recorder or personal computer to copy the data from a legal DVD to a blank disc, resulting in a pirated copy with identical content. Some pirated DVDs are copies of screener discs that movie studios send to critics and publicists during or before theatrical release. Another source is the cinema, where pirates can use a handheld video camera to record the movie as it plays onscreen.


Buyers may find pirated DVDs for sale just about anywhere. In cities vendors sell pirated DVDs out of cars or in sidewalk stands. Oftentimes they are for sale alongside CDs and legitimate DVDs, making it even more difficult to tell which copies are illegal. Flea markets and online auction websites are other common sources of pirated DVDs, where police supervision and customer scrutiny are reduced. All of these sites are subject to police raids where law enforcement personnel act on tips to shut down or arrest sellers of pirated DVDs.


Moviegoers everywhere are familiar with some of the measures intended to prevent DVD piracy. Movie theatres may inspect backpacks or purses for cameras, or send ushers through the aisles to catch illegal videotaping. In addition, DVD production companies often include digital rights management, or DRM, on discs, which prevents copying. Finally, police follow up on tips to shut down DVD piracy operations. Some police departments even use specially trained dogs to identify suspicious DVD shipments in commercial airline baggage, cutting off the flow of pirated DVDs.

Alternatives and Warnings

DVD piracy is not the only illegal means of copying or selling copyrighted work. Illegal downloads of copyrighted material are a common source of lawsuits. For buyers who wish to avoid being caught making an illegal purchase, buy at conventional retail stores or from reputable websites. Discs with professional packaging or high-quality labels may still be pirated, so use common sense to avoid the fines and jail time that can come from buying or possessing a pirated DVD.

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