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How to tell if your DVD is pirated

There are the obvious indicators of movie piracy, like downloading movie files from chat rooms or Bittorrent websites. In these cases, the downloader is usually aware they’re breaking the law. But with cheap video-recording-and-mass-producing technology and good deals online, disguised piracy may cause you to purchase pirated material without realizing it.

Why care? Two very good reasons are the $250,000 fine and five years jail time, the current maximum punishment for copyright infringement. And just like when I ran that stop sign, pleading ignorance won’t work: You can be targeted by copyright law if you unknowingly distribute pirated movies.

With my full apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, use these tips to verify what you have are legitimately purchased DVDs.

1) If your new DVDs arrived at your door bearing a striking resemblance to Lady Godiva, you might have a pirated movie.

All legit DVDs should be fully clothed: They'll have plastic shrink wrap and factory sticker seals, those annoying reminders that the DVDs were packaged at a proper distribution facility. Unsecured and unwrapped discs could indicate piracy.

2) If, despite evidence to the contrary, your reseller insists that "freeSpielberg.com" is a political site, you might have a pirated movie.

Ask your DVD reseller for names of their distributors. Legitimate companies will be able to provide these for you, and basic web searches should be able to establish credibility.

3) If your DVDs play in more countries than the Rolling Stones on their last world tour, you might have a pirated movie.

DVDs are limited by a region code. A DVD in a Japanese player (region code ‘2’) should not work on an American player (region code '1'). If the region code of your DVD is '0' or 'ALL', this indicates a pirated disc that will play on almost every DVD player in any country. It might sound handy, but when used with retail movies, it's illegal.

4) Ads and promotional materials are actually good: If you can't find them, you might have a pirated movie.

Are your discs fully sealed with the usual inserts and studio ads? Inferior print quality, missing inserts, lack of studio identification or original artwork is bad news, indicating piracy.

5) If during your DVD movie's playback, you hear people off-screen talking and munching on popcorn, you might have a pirated movie.

When playing, is the picture or sound quality poor? Are you seeing end credits with television voice-overs? Your movie should be a perfect transfer of audio and video from the original production. Any changes of format or quality indicate recordings from camcorders or creation using inferior equipment, also known as piracy.

6) If the movie is available before the movie is available, you might have a pirated movie.

Examine the movie’s date of release. If the DVD is available before the movie is officially released or even in theaters, that's an indicator of piracy. Even if your name is Roger Ebert.