When I was kid, there was a ritual I performed every time I got a new record.

The first time I played it, I would make a copy of the record on a cassette tape. Then I would put the record away, and listen to the music by playing the tape over and over again.

There was a reason for my strange actions. As others who have purchased and listened to records will attest, each time you play a record, the needle travels across the surface, allowing you to hear what was recorded on it. However, the process comes with a price; because each time you played the record it suffered a slight loss in quality as the needle wore down the surface. The first time wasn't enough to be noticeable, to be sure, but a record that's been played dozens or even hundreds of times definitely doesn't sound as good as one that's been purchased fresh from the manufacturer.

So, to save the quality of my records, I recorded them, and then put them in storage in the event the tape broke. There was never any copyright or major problems with bootlegging in those days, because the equipment to make analog copies of records was very expensive.

OK, around the late 1970s, the VCR became available to the American public. It's so well known to our culture I don't have to explain how it works; and just about everyone knows the impact it had on our lives. In fact, in the very beginning, many film companies were less than happy with the prospect of the public being able to record its products off the airwaves. I recall there was a brief attempt by certain movie and television producers to have VCRs banned because they claimed the devices violated copyright laws.

But when those same entertainment giants abruptly discovered that the American public would just as eagerly pay for films produced directly onto video cassettes - as opposed to recorded - they suddenly changed their tune and eagerly embraced the new technology. With one provision. These media giants contended a video cassette of one of their movies could not legally be duplicated -- such from one VCR to another -- without authorization due to copyright infringement. So the VCR manufacturers responded by putting safeguards in their machines and the tapes to make it next to impossible to make a duplicate of a copy-guarded tape. And this worked fairly well at the time because it was still prohibitively expensive for bootleggers to obtain the equipment necessary to make illegal duplicate tapes - although it was getting easier.

More time has passed, and now we have seen the arrival of the digital age - and with it came the technology that makes it very quick and very easy to make duplicates of information which are virtually indistinguishable from the original. In fact the technology advanced so rapidly that at first the entertainment giants paid scant attention; figuring it would never be easily available to the public. How wrong they were. Within a few short years after digital technology was introduced, anyone with a computer and the proper software could crank out as many duplicate CDs and DVDs as they wanted. As a result, many in the entertainment industry - particularly the corporations - raised a howl of indignation that's still being heard on many fronts; particularly the courts.

Now, as a writer, I can understand these folks' objections. Or at least most of them. If the public has a way of easily and cheaply duplicating a DVD of a popular title, there's little incentive for a lot of people to pay full price for that movie. In fact, there's a lot of incentive for the unscrupulous to make copies, sell them at a cut rate price, and pocket the money themselves. Under such circumstances, everyone in the entertainment industry would suffer because profits would eventually fall off, leaving little incentive for those folks to produce anything worthwhile. Let's face it, bootlegging is just another name for stealing, and that's exactly what a person is doing if he makes a duplicate of another person's work, and sells it as his own.

When it became evident to the entertainment giants how easily it could be to copy DVDs and other digital sources, they responded by developing systems that encrypted the information on their releases, making duplication impossible. At least at first. As the old saying goes, for every piece of technology, there's someone out there who can beat it, and cottage industries have sprang up over the last few years, producing software that can get past the encryption codes. It's often referred to as "ripping" software, because it allows you to "rip" the information from one source - such as a CD or DVD - and transfer it via duplication to another.

Those who manufacture such software are constantly being challenged in the courts by the entertainment industry, who contend that duplicating their product is violating the copyright laws and is therefore an illegal act. I learned recently one company which produces ripping software was put out of business about a month ago due to a cease and desist order issued by the courts. Such is life.

But there's also something called "fair use." Basically, it says that if I purchase another person's work, I'm allowed a certain amount of latitude for my own personal use. A good example is photocopying a book or magazine article for reference purposes. I'm not allowed to sell those copies, mind you, but I can make duplicates for certain limited purposes.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article I used to make tape copies of my (vinyl) records as a way of preserving the original source. I think the same thing should be allowed for DVDs. Because let's face it, when I spend $20, $30, $40 or more for a DVD, I definitely want to protect my investment. Of course, certain limits would have to be put into place to prevent wholesale bootlegging which has become more troublesome to the entertainment industry over the past few years. One possible solution is if a person could prove he has an original disc that's been damaged he could obtain a replacement from the manufacturer via an Internet download. The technology is in place, it could easily be performed, and it would allow the owner to obtain a replacement, as opposed to having to pay full price for a new DVD.