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Ask Slashdot: Can I Cross US Borders With Legally Ripped Media? 285

First time accepted submitter ozspeed writes "I live in Australia where I've been enjoying the luxury of taking legally purchased music and film and ripping them for my personal enjoyment on my digital media devices; all legal and above board in my country. I'm about to move to the U.S. for a few years and wondered if I would get into trouble if I tried to bring them across the border with me. Any Slashdot been in a similar position, or have a good view of the law on this?" The U.S. has claimed broad data-snooping rights at the border (though some common sense may have broken out, too), but I've never heard of anyone hassled for this reason; have you?
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Ask Slashdot: Can I Cross US Borders With Legally Ripped Media?

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  • by atriusofbricia ( 686672 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:16AM (#44100819) Journal

    Speaking from my own experience of crossing the border *a lot* I can't say I've ever seen or experienced even the slightest interest in my laptop or drives. Maybe they have more time at the land borders than they do at the airports I can't say. I haven't crossed at one of those in years but at the airports there's simply no time to deal with such things.

    • Same experience here, but I am a US citizen so they might be more inclined to fuck around with you as a foreigner. My advice is to keep your laptop/ipod or whatever with you as carry-on luggage.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:32AM (#44101033)

      Depends on the color of your skin and place of birth. My own experience and from stories told to me by other brown skinned people, the US border guards take a great deal of pleasure sending us into the back room for further questioning. At that point they will try very hard to find something, anything, that will justify their refusal to let us into the US, so I wouldn't put it past them to search a targeted passenger's electronics for "evidence."

      Airports don't escape this rule, at least not on flights from Canada where the screening is done at the Canadian airport. Personally, I've always been either let through or refused entry after the half-hour interrogation session, but I've heard from others who'd been kept in the back room exactly long enough to make them miss their flight.

      Needless to say I stopped visiting US many years ago.

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @12:01PM (#44101417)
        Eh, it depends on the customs officer you get, too. I have pretty serious health conditions - heart trouble. I've had surgery. I have a pacemaker/defibrillator. I can walk short distances, etc, but standing in line at an airport for 2 hours is out, so I always get a wheelchair which the airlines are happy to provide. One day coming in to the US this bastard of an ICE officer who was obviously in a foul mood, starts giving me shit for the wheelchair, even when I told him it belongs to the airline, not to me. He seemed to think I was trying to smuggle something into the country inside it or something. Anyway he sent us to the area where they review stuff, and my wife and I got searched. The American Airlines airport wheelchair was x-rayed. Obviously they didn't find anything, and sent me on my way. But when you get a despotic official hell bent on ruining people's day, it will happen no matter what your skin color. And yes, I'm white, blonde, blue eyes, and my wife is also white.
        • I spent a happy hour in Orlando watching some officers try to get a wheelchair through the metal detector without it sounding off. The elderly lady sitting in the chair was fading away as we watched.
    • I have crossed at land borders multiple times carrying both a laptop and an MP3 player, both containing ripped media. I can report that traveling between the US and Canada, there has been no interest from either Canadian or American authorities in my equipment's contents. I am a US citizen, though, so your experience may vary.

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:20AM (#44100875) Homepage Journal

    they can't check.
    they know they can't check.

    that is not what they're looking for if they're checking your backpack.

    now.. if you got loads of obviously pirated cd's - not homeburn! - but commercial asia type pirate cd's.. they'll snatch 'em if they see 'em. because that is how the customs crews are trained.

    • they can't check.
      they know they can't check.

      I'm not convinced that's even remotely true [].

      Since ICE is under DHS, and they've basically said they can search your laptops ... it falls within the mandate of ICE to now police copyright.

      I can entirely believe that (if not now, soon), they might start saying that if you've got ripped media you can get detained. Once your border folks are an extension of policing copyright for industry, this is an entirely plausible scenario.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        they can't check.
        they know they can't check.

        I'm not convinced that's even remotely true [].

        Since ICE is under DHS, and they've basically said they can search your laptops ... it falls within the mandate of ICE to now police copyright.

        I can entirely believe that (if not now, soon), they might start saying that if you've got ripped media you can get detained. Once your border folks are an extension of policing copyright for industry, this is an entirely plausible scenario.

        that's not what I meant. I meant they can't check if it's legally ripped or not.

        • that's not what I meant. I meant they can't check if it's legally ripped or not.

          Oh, sorry about that.

          But, really, as far as the media companies are concerned, there is no 'legally ripped' as they don't recognize your right to format shift music you have purchased. So from their perspective, the border folks should be charging you with violating the DMCA.

          Cynically, I wouldn't be surprised if the *AAs have been trying to make it illegal to be in possession of DRM-free MP3s and movies under the assumption you

  • by metrix007 ( 200091 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:20AM (#44100879)

    For the record, I'm an Australian who lives in NYC. I'm very familiar with the policies of both countries.

    Australia has some backwards format-shifting laws, prohibiting ripping DVDs under all circumstances for example, so it's inaccurate to pain Australia as better than the US in that regard. We can rip VHS though.

    Basically, it's illegal to upload and distribute stuff, or to be making money off ripped items. If you just have stuff ripped for yourself, they are not going to care. If you're really concerned, put it all on a harddrive. If you're really, really concerned, encrypt that harddrive. If you're really, really, really, really concerned upload it and download it later. Internet speed is pretty fucking fast here.

    Of course, having gone through customs numerous times with hundreds of burned DVDs, I don't think there is much cause for concern. I'd be much more worried about the UK.

    • by GodGell ( 897123 )

      Internet speed is pretty fucking fast here.

      Compared to what?

      Last I heard, Internet connection speeds are significantly behind the curve in large parts of the US. Still, better than Australia, but not quite "pretty fucking fast" territory! :)

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Compared to most of the world.
        Top 10% is pretty fucking fast.

      • I live in a medium sized city in the midwest. I get 30 and 2 Mbps. It may not be spectacular, but it is adequate.

        This is available even outside of town to some extent. If you live in a neighborhood you get it, the farms scattered around, not quite as much.
      • by PRMan ( 959735 )

        I'm an Australian who lives in NYC

        Internet speed is pretty fucking fast here.

        Compared to what?

        Compared to...Australia? You know, where the OP is from? Try to keep up.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      "or to be making money off ripped items. "
      doesn't matter if you are making money. It's a violation of copyright law to distribute items you don't have permission to distribute.

    • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @12:03PM (#44101425)
      I'm with you on this one... The question is just asking basement dwellers to peek out from under their tinfoil hats out and speculate on how much the NSA wants your Steely Dan collection. To summarize: Nobody at the border really cares about your music collection, especially if it's sitting on the hard drive of your laptop or media device. You're gonna hear a lot of folks here make a big deal about encrypting your drives, doing this that and the other. Don't pay attention to those guys, they don't get out much.
      • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        You are on the other end of the unrealistic spectrum. The NSA themselves don't care about your Steely Dan collection, but the RIAA does. The RIAA has deep hooks into our law enforcement. While I don't think that the OP has anything to worry about crossing the boarder with his movies and music, the RIAA has gone full nuclear with the might of our law enforcement for sillier things.
      • If the NSA is confiscating people's Steely Dan collections at border crossings - I, for one, will consider that a public service.

    • I'd vote against encrypting a hard drive. Video files don't look suspicious, but an encrypted volume sure does. Really, having a copy of your legally purchased DVD's isn't illegal here. Making them is. Since you weren't under the DMCA when you made the copies you'd technically be in the clear here, as backup copies are legal in themselves.

  • If they have no other reason to search your computer, then there is probably a 99% chance that no one will even ask you to turn on your laptop.

    On the other hand, if they do have some reason to give your more scrutiny than the average Australian, it may be worth it to prepare for your computer to be searched and/or confiscated. The worst that will probably happen is that you may never see your computer again (or you may get it back after 6 to 12 months, maybe damaged).

    I don't think I've ever heard of an inst

    • Not too many home connections in the US would make that feasible either, assuming we are talking about multi-terabytes of data. Upload speeds generally suck residential connections in both countries (some exceptions exist: FiOS in the US and any NBN or Telstra Velocity FTTH connection in Australia).

      I wouldn't even bother with the TrueCrypt - if they discover the partition, it might just attract further checks.

      • Use the hidden partition. They can't prove it's there. Dump stuff you wouldn't want a complete stranger to see in there, like receipts for all your electronics (silly example). If they insist on brute-forcing it to check for a hidden partition, wish them luck.

        • Damn, "In there" being the decoy partition.

        • True, if you're going to do it, do it that way. My point was more that I don't think it's worth it in the first place. If you have a volume already set up for other purposes by all means, but personally I wouldn't go to the trouble if I was in the OP's situation.

    • If they have no other reason to search your computer, then there is probably a 99% chance that no one will even ask you to turn on your laptop.

      Off-topic, but I've only once been asked to boot up my computer, on a flight out of Italy. Later, on the plane, the passenger next to me tried to boot up her PC, and it kept crashing. She had forced a shutdown mid-boot after the security check and corrupted her boot sector. The ironic bit was that she was a consultant with a certain Big Blue IT company.

      This was around the time when they started getting concerned about the threat of false laptops with explosives instead of batteries, so I'm guessing this wa

      • explosives instead of batteries? I thought that the batteries exploded often enough without our help.

        • Probably more reliable than most of the explosives-based bomb plots in recent years.... (see also "shoe bomber", "underpants bomber")
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:24AM (#44100931)

    border control mostly cares about plants, animals, insects, large amounts of precious metals, illegal drugs, kiddie porn

    no one cares about you carrying around ripped music and movies

    i've traveled around the world and from all the nonsense you read about US law enforcement i've had less trouble at US Customs than almost anywhere in the world. including Europe.

    • by isorox ( 205688 )

      border control mostly cares about plants, animals, insects, large amounts of precious metals, illegal drugs, kiddie porn

      no one cares about you carrying around ripped music and movies

      i've traveled around the world and from all the nonsense you read about US law enforcement i've had less trouble at US Customs than almost anywhere in the world. including Europe.

      I've just taken flight 57 of the year. I last saw a customs agent at heathrow 18 months ago. I went through the red channel and had to phone them up to get them to come out and stamp a carnet.

  • Yes sir! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:24AM (#44100933)

    I cross the US/Mexico border by land every day and I have had work colleagues tell me at least on two occasions that they have had their legit CDs confiscated from their cars, apparently because they were out of their jewel cases. I one case, the CDs were of dubious origin, but it shows that they do pay attention to such things and that apparently they think think they work for the RIAA rather than the HSA.
    None however have told me their digital devices were inspected for illegal music, and interestingly both colleagues who were hassled were Mexican nationals. Profiling, anyone?

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      they're checking for counterfeit material, cd's out of cases are on their list of potentially counterfeit products.. I doubt they would have checked what material they had on burnt cdr's.

  • Standard "IANAL, TINLA" disclaimer...

    My LOGIC goes like this: the DMCA prohibits the act of running DeCSS. If you run a decryption program that spits out a standard ISO/MP4/XviD file, and you're legally entitled to enjoy the content that you purchased, I can't see there being an issue with it.

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:25AM (#44100957)

    Frankly, unless you're on a watch list for something else, or acting completely suspicious, I can't see that they would bother you. I've made several international flights in the past 2 years, and each time I've just given over my customs declaration form, which wasn't looked at, and waved on through.

    Of course, now the NSA is probably going to tip of ICE to your evil plot to bring illict digital copies of 'Men at Work' records into the US.

    • Of course, making this submission to /. has added the submitter to the watch list.

      • At this point, I think the NSA watch lists are a superset of "list of all humans currently alive". I think I'm on there are least twice.

  • Law in the US (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 )

    1) The law in the US is becoming above the law
    2) You poor bastard.
    3) all other questions refer to #1

  • Post it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by retech ( 1228598 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:31AM (#44101019)
    If you're really worried about it, put everything on a drive and send it ahead of you via the post.
  • I travel into and out of the USA all the time with thousands of songs, dozens of movies and hundreds of books as pdfs for my personal amusement and edification, and it's all on a hard drive the size of a deck of cards. Why would you bring disks? They're bulky! Just dump it all on a TB drive - it'll cost what, $90? Stupendously more convenient.
  • Why would they care that you're bringing a hard drive? Why would they bother to look at it, let alone make you turn your computer on, attach it to the hard drive and look at its contents? I'm with basically everyone else: just don't bring a pile of dvds that look like bootlegs. If you really want to bring a pile of dvds, you're still probably fine as long as they don't look like bootlegs you bought from a bootlegger... but why would you bring piles of dvds, as opposed to just leaving them digital on a hard

  • I wouldn't worry (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:53AM (#44101303)

    I was in your situation a couple of months ago. I'm an Australian who's just moved (April 2013) to the US for at least a few years, maybe longer. I also had a lot of media on me when I crossed the border (ripped or otherwise). I don't think you will have any problems unless you literally had half a suitcase filled with dodgy-looking burnt DVDs (which looks like piracy and shows up easily on Xray).

    Carry your stuff in on a removable hard drive or two or on a laptop and you will just blend in with the millions of other business travellers who enter and exit the US with laptops/storage devices/other computer peripherals every week. Airports are busy places (especially in the US where they seem to be chronically under-staffed compared to Australia), and customs have bigger fish to fry. They are looking for threats to agriculture/disease/pests and illicit drugs, mostly. If you look like a regular dude with a laptop they won't hassle you at all.

    And 'welcome' to the US - it can be a pretty frustrating place as a new resident (trust me on this - US systems and processes seem not to consider 'foreigner' or non-resident alien as a use case so it's a complete nightmare doing even mundane daily tasks, until you get a local drivers licence, a SSN etc. Also in most states they won't recognise your existing Australian licence as equivalent, so you'll have to do a driving test to get a local one, hooray. And they don't give a toss about your credit history either so have fun applying for a rental apartment/getting a loan/even getting approved for a contract cell phone etc.)

    But bear with it. After a few months once you jump through all the bureaucratic hoops things get a lot easier. Doing stuff here (at any level of government or even within private companies) is inconsistent, arbitrary, piecemeal. But once you're set up and good to go, it's a good place to live. Though you'll want to get a VPN back to Australia to get a fix of decent TV or radio news (ABC, SBS or otherwise) - 'news' here on all networks is mind-numbingly dumbed down and locally-focused.

  • First a confession. Back in the 1990s I ripped text books. All my fellow PIGS (Poor Indian Grad Students) did the same. We were in India, if Eastern Economy Edition is not available, American text books would cost about half a month salary of a gazetted officer. ( 1800 rs a month, 14 Rs/US$). So you give the book to the local Xerox shop and next day you get a bound copy of a poorly xeroxed book. It would reek of some chemical. Letters would undergo some kind Laplace transformation at the center and fade, both the recto and the verso pages would be on one wide page. Lento would be empty!

    Well at the time I got admission to PhD program in USA I wanted to bring those ripped books along, naturally. But was deathly afraid the immigration officer would find these books, and mark me a flagrant violator of copyright, a person unworthy of admission to a great American university, and do in his best soup nazi voice, "no visa to you" and send me back. So I shipped them all using surface mail and crossed the border without any contraband.

    That is how I got the U S Federal Government, to aid and abet my flagrant and willful violation of copyright and the intellectual property of the text book companies of America. The poor postal worker lugged that entire box a flight of stairs up and deposited the treasure in my doorstep, some four months later! All those books, Aircraft Performance Stability and Control by Perkins and Hage, Hale, McCormick, Atkins, Timoshenko, Nicholai, and so many other goodies are still in the bottom shelf of my office. I recently had to look one up to understand quarternions, to implement some rigid body transformation of coordinate systems!

  • by csumpi ( 2258986 )
    Your safest bet would be to stay home. As soon as you enter the US, all your digital devices automatically hook up to a special network run by the US government and transmit all the information about your digital media, your street drug use, sexual behavior, thoughts you thought or ever thought about thinking and if there's any red flags you'll be arrested as soon as the border agent scans your I-94 form.
  • What matters is whether or not you're a person of interest. Does the US government have any reason it might want to harrass you?

    If not, then you should be fine.

    If so, then they'll find some reason to do so. Your music files or lack thereof, won't significantly modify the chances of this happening.

    The law is irrelevant. And also supreme. You will almost certainly be breaking many laws, which nobody ever heard of, and almost never get enforced.

  • As an American who travels with some frequency, I'm more familiar than most with how onerous airport security has gotten, and my encounters with border control at numerous other countries have left me saddened at how poorly ours tends to measure up (in terms of politeness, common sense, etc.) Likewise, the US Copyright Act needs a massive overhaul, and the statutory penalties for relatively minor violations need to be completely re-worked, if not abolished -- the current copyright enforcement regime is abho

  • First, encrypt your stuff with a key that is encrypted with a pass phrase you can remember. Then upload your encrypted stuff to some cloud storage in Europe. Then transfer your encrypted stuff to some cloud storage in USA. Then move to USA carrying normal things loaded with common stuff not encrypted. Once settled in and acquired high speed internet, download your stuff from the cloud storage in USA.

    You have to be careful in any English speaking country (and a few others).

  • ZIP or TAR your files, convert them to base64, print the resulting text, fax it to the US, print again, ocr the text, convert back to binary and unpack.
    It's done before to legally get stuff out of the US. Must be good enough for reversed process. Dead easy.

    (Kiddin' aside, I've done similar shit to circumvent idiotic security policies. Never had more fun with PuTTY and uuencode.)
  • (ianal) There have been court decisions that make media shifting very specifically legal. The main problem for US consumers is that it does nothing about the issues of breaking DRM to make your media shifted file. I don't know if the files you got in Australia were protected by DRM or if breaking it to media shift is legal there or not.

    Of course there are two more points to look out for:

    First of all, the customs agents, tsa, and anybody else, have no idea how you got those files, and it's extremely doubtful
  • by pem ( 1013437 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @12:51PM (#44102109)
    Hide your music inside pictures of naked children.
  • Even if we ignore that fact that is it simply never safe to cross US boarders.
    And ignore weither or not it is legal to own and transport ripped media (it might no longer be legally ripped in the US).

    You are will stuck with the fact that it is not safe to carry any digital data across the US boarder.

    As much as possible you might just want to transfer the data electronically.

  • Honestly, everyone is giving the worst advice.

    Just ship it to your destination via FedEX or DHL. All problems solved.

  • Based on my travel experience (2 trips to North America, 1 to the Middle East), nobody really cares about the contents of your laptop. Come on, it's not 1998, pirating stuff over the internet is a lot easier than bothering to carry it physically.
    What customs are usually interested about is
    1) Large quantities of identical stuff which may be contraband
    2) Illegal items, which oddly enough includes most food. Also drugs, firearms, etc.
    Security may check your laptop to detect any unaccounted cavities which can c

  • by MarbleMunkey ( 1495379 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @01:10PM (#44102329)
    1) Copy files onto new HDD
    2) backup partition table and post online somewhere
    3) wipe partition table
    4) place 'blank' HDD with all your other parts.

    Later, download your partition table backup and restore it. to access your files.
  • It depends (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @01:26PM (#44102525)
    How brown are you?
  • I don't think you need to make any consideration for bringing ripped music across the border. US customs are not going to search your computer or devices for illegal content. There is simply not enough time in a year to do this for every person entering the country.

    I can't believe the amount of FUD being spread in this thread.

  • If you are really worried about it, just ship the media to yourself. FedEx, DHL, whatever.

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