First, before I complain and you all revoke my nerd cred, a couple disclaimers. Yes, I own the DVD.
Second, to the hardcore, I have ripped DVDs in the past. I know how it's done.
But that's just the thing: In all this time (DVDs were introduced in 1995), it hasn't become any easier to import and use the digital video files that come on these discs. And don't get me started on Blu-ray.
I knew to use Handbrake, so I downloaded the latest presets and whatnot. I then inserted the DVD, found the disc's video directory and told Handbrake to grab the file. A seedy-looking dialogue window popped up telling me that Handbrake wasn't about to rip a copyrighted DVD. That is, unless I went and downloaded some file from the back alleys of the internet which it happily directed me to. Feeling like a criminal for wanting to watch the movie that I just bought on the device that I owned, I followed the instructions like a druggie meeting a pusher on a corner and downloaded the necessary extension.
Contraband installed, I clicked "start," half-looking over my shoulder and wondering if I was about to be logged as a data thief in some secret FBI file. Without issue, the ripping process started and I sulked away to pour a cup of coffee and contemplate what I'd do on my vacation -- or in jail, depending on how this ripping process went.
Ten minutes later, Handbrake signaled that it was done.
"This doesn't seem right. That's a 90-minute movie," I thought.
Sure enough, the ripping process timed out at about nine minutes. Those nine minutes looked -- and sounded -- beautiful, but my soon-to-be wife wouldn't be too impressed on the plane with such a short clip.
Had I been stopped by some external force? Were the nine minutes of illicit material enough to lock me up? Had I downloaded a bait file that reported me directly to the MPAA?
So now I get to peek under the hood and figure out why the rip failed. I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that I shouldn't be doing this because I am -- according to the law -- doing something wrong. What I should be doing, of course, is buying a digital copy of the movie or bringing the DVD that I paid for with me to play on a portable player or laptop, both of which sound not so fun.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Sure, I know there are gajillions of terrible people who download movies they didn't pay for. I also know there are actors and producers who aren't getting paid as much as they could for their hard work.
As a writer, I respect the right to be paid for one's work.
But here's the thing: I do get paid. Once I sell my work, anyone can come see it. I don't expect payment based on how many people read my articles. Of course, Hollywood is a very different beast: contracts are written, for the most part, based on how much a movie sells. If people grab the movie illegally and don't pay for it, people aren't getting paid.
That model is broken now, though. Today, virtually every consumer has more than one screen: a television, smartphone, tablet and computer -- not to mention the big screen they may have seen the movie on in the first place. Sure, when we all had one TV and one VCR this wasn't a huge deal -- one tape was enough.
Let's get over this already. I'll bring the popcorn.
Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.