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So, I have bought a lot of things that came in physical format: movies, songs, video games, and all sorts of other digital media.

However, things like CDs and DVDs are rather annoying -- they take up space and they're always getting lost and dirty and whatever.

Would it be legal to copy all of the media I bought to my own hard drive (or an external one), as long as I don't make the media publically available (upload it to a torrent site or whatever)? Would I have to destroy the original media? Can I make backups of this non-original hard drive?

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For the movies you are going to need to deal with 17 U.S. Code § 1201 which makes it illegal to circumvent the copy-protection on DVDs.

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For the music CDs there is no copy-protection but you will up against copyright issues. On the one hand, the lawyer for the RIAA famously said that it it ok to rip your music.

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But that position was obfuscated in a joint comment about copy protection.

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So who really knows. The RIAA is known for being brutally protective of their copyright.

Software is different because it is licensed. The legality of copying is going to be dependent on the license, which you will need to read! For example, here is some language from Microsoft's Office 2013 Professional:

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But then later it seems like we can make a backup copy:

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Maybe that is for the benefit of the Japanese users:

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But I do not think so because the permitted backup copy is mentioned in the main License Terms section, not in the Additional Terms where we find the Japan note. So, yeah, read the terms and try to figure it out!

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Title 17 of the US Code deals with copyright, states that copying an original work without the consent of the copyright holder is infringement. It is silent on the matter of format-shifting and space-shifting. So really, you'd want to know whether your copies fall under fair use.

One of the key considerations in determining whether a particular use falls under fair use is (per 17 USCS § 107(4)):

the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

As per MCA, Inc. v. Wilson, 677 F.2d 180 (1981) at 183:

... where a claim of fair use is made, a balance must sometimes be struck between the benefit the public will derive if the use is permitted and the personal gain the copyright owner will receive if the use is denied. ... The less adverse effect that an alleged infringing use has on the copyright owner's expectation of gain, the less public benefit need be shown to justify the use. (citations omitted)

So, the question you would ask is whether personal copies of original media have an adverse effect on the copyright owner's expectation of gain. You wouldn't necessarily need to destroy the original media, and backups of the non-original hard drive would fall under the same test. A personal copy or backup, provided you still own the original media, is unlikely to have an adverse effect on the copyright holder's personal gain.

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