In a technologically advanced world where copyrights and laws protect movies the way a bear protects her cubs, deciding whether you can record a program isn't as simple as "yes" or "no." Sometimes, though, it's technically impossible to record a program, such as from Comcast's On Demand programming, in which case the decision is made for you.
Comcast states that On Demand programming cannot be copied onto a digital video recorder (DVR). The company reasons that On Demand programming is designed to replicate VCR functionality and replace the need for a recording device. For example, a viewer can pause, fast forward and rewind On Demand programming as if watching a movie or show on a VCR or DVD player. According to Comcast, this restriction applies to both free and pay-per-view On Demand programming.
Comcast forbids recording onto a DVR, but what about a videocassette or DVD? No. Because of copyright law, cable operators apply technological protection measures (TPM) to paid programming, such as found in On Demand programming, to make any recording of that programming impossible. One of these measures, not necessarily used by Comcast, is a technology called Macrovision, a device that prevents unlawful digital and analog recording, and which most VCRs and DVD players can detect.
Some VCRs, such as Betamax VCRs, may not detect Macrovision, in which case you could potentially record a movie from Comcast's On Demand programming. But according to copyright laws, you'd be taking a risk. Basically, if there's a measure intentionally put in place to protect a movie, it's illegal to circumvent it, as noted in the book "Electronic Media Law."
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) acts as the legal touchstone for many cases relative to recording video or audio programs, such as those from Comcast's On Demand programming. Some have argued that the limits companies put on recording while invoking the DMCA violate fair use rights. According to the book "Internet and Law: Technology, Society and Compromises," the DMCA applies most directly to DVD, VHS and 8mm formats in its restricting unlawful copying of video, but it also applies to other formatting, such as Betamax.
- Comcast: DVR User Guide
- "Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology"; David Morton; 2004; page 182
- "Electronic Media Law"; Roger L. Sadler; 2005
- "Internet and Law: Technology, Society and Compromises"; Aaron Schwabach; 2006
Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."