Since one of my new year’s resolutions is to try and post more often this year, I’ve decided to start a bi-monthly column to help stay on top of this goal. Ask Davis is a new feature that will be a cross between Dear Abby and the Mythbusters. You have questions and I don’t mind doing the legwork to find your answers. I’m hoping that it will provide a good place for readers to share feedback on what you are interested in. If you’ve ever wondered what my opinion on something might be, here is your chance. Just contact me through the tip line and I’ll be happy to consider sharing my thoughts.
For my first Ask Davis question of the year, I turned to an anonymous Google surfer from Fort Wayne Indiana who asks Can Netflix tell if a movie has been copied?
Dear anonymous Google surfer from Fort Wayne Indiana. Thank you for choosing the Digital Connection for all of your movie ripping needs. I suppose a better question to ask may be whether or not it’s legal or ethical to copy movies from Netflix, but I’m not here to judge, so here is the answer that you are looking for: it depends.
Netflix has two different movie delivery mechanisms. The first is the traditional DVD by mail. Pretty much all DVDs use a copy protection known as CSS. It was designed by the fat cat studios to limit access to your media, but was cracked several years ago by an underground hero known as DVD Jon. Since then, there have been a number of rouge software companies who have built dvd decryption programs, but their legality lies somewhere in the grey area. Last year, Real Networks tried to launch a program that would legally allow you to make back up copies of DVDs that you owned, but a judge granted a temporary injunction against them, after the big wig studios argued that people might use the program to make copies of discs that they didn’t own, but had rented through Netflix
Now I know that you wouldn’t do anything like that, but to get back to your theoretical question of whether or not Netflix would be able to tell if you did use one of these programs, the answer is no. Because the DVD decryption programs don’t write anything to the disc, there would be no way for Netflix to know that you had sneaked a copy. Netflix does monitor usage behavior so its possible that they might suspend or slow down your account if you abused their service, but by and large they depend on people playing by the rules.
When it comes to the movies that you find on their watch instantly feature, technically there is a way that you can copy them, but it’s a bit more tricky. If you stream rip the watch instantly files, you’ll be able to download a copy of the film to your hard drive, but you need a back ground in tech in order to figure it all out. Perhaps even more importantly when it comes to your question, Netflix can tell when you’ve downloaded a movie instead of streaming it. I don’t think that they lower the hammer on people who do this periodically, but there have been reports of them taking action against heavy users of this hack.
At the end of the day, you may be able to copy a movie from Netflix without getting caught, but my own question is why would anyone want to? The great thing about Netflix is that you can always request to see a movie again without any extra cost. Trying to save money by ripping a bunch of titles in a month may sound like a good idea, but if you’re going to walk that close to the line, you may as well go Bit Torrent. There may have been a time in my life where this sounded like a more appealing idea, but I don’t mind paying $18 a month for all you can eat, virus free film bonanza. I hope that this helps to answer your question and look forward to finding out what else my readers are interested in.