Why Pick on RealDVD?

RealNetworks' RealDVD was handed a devastating blow yesterday as U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel

in a case pitting the two against each other regarding the right to copy films onto one's hard drive. She granted a preliminary injunction against sale of RealDVD, pending a trial over copyright infringement. A cluster of Hollywood honchos, including Paramount, Sony, Universal Studios, and Walt Disney filed suit against RealDVD back in September. Now RealDVD's site is a headstone: "RealDVD is Currently Unavailable."

In a statement released to the press, Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said: "Judge Patel's ruling affirms what we have known all along: RealNetworks took a license to build a DVD-player and instead made an illegal DVD-copier. Throughout the development of RealDVD, RealNetworks demonstrated that it was willing to break the law at the expense of those who create entertainment content."

RealNetworks has a different take: "We are disappointed that a preliminary injunction has been placed on the sale of RealDVD. We have just received the Judge's detailed ruling and are reviewing it. After we have done so fully, we'll determine our course of action and will have more to say at that time," the company says in a statement.

The argument stems from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998. Circumventing encryption technology on digital media was made illegal by the DMCA. According to Patel's decision, RealDVD broke through a DVD's Content Scramble System code in order to transfer movies onto hard drives.

But RealDVD was very stringent with its copying program. The basic package allowed for only a single digital copy to be placed on your hard drive. After paying extra licensing fees, you could transfer the digital copy onto as many as five other hard drives. Disc-based burning was never an option.

Meanwhile, programs such as the VLC Media Player flaunt the law and provide software that allows for real-time copying. So why is the MPAA hard up for RealDVD and not these other products? It seems to me that the MPAA has chosen a battle against RealDVD to set an example but is perhaps ignorant of the proliferation of DVD-ripping programs available.

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It should be noted that Judge Patel also presided over the Napster case, which eventually shut down the file-sharing site. Napster's operation differed from the backup copies RealDVD enables, although the MPAA regards all copying as piracy.

It's sad that RealDVD, with its sophisticated and lawful approach to DVD-copying, had to swallow the wrath of the MPAA. It's also clear that the DMCA needs to be updated to reflect the changes in media distribution 11 years later. It's perfectly legal to rip music from a CD and upload it onto an iPod for personal use; why can't a person do the same with their own copies of movies? The assumption is that everyone using a program such as RealDVD is a criminal bent on ripping as many Netflix movies as possible, rather than a law-abiding citizen who simply wants to watch flicks on the go. For an organization that supposedly has its finger on the pulse of moviegoers, the MPAA strikes me as horribly distrustful and curmudgeonly in its approach to modern times.

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