The Law Can't Keep Up with Technology

It's Stupid Legal Tricks Day here in Cringeville, as we bring news of two court rulings certain to bring joy to the hearts of a handful of corporate attorneys and misery to everyone else.

First: Federal District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel has issued a preliminary injunction against RealNetworks, barring the sale of its RealDVD backup software. (Patel had issued a temporary injunction shortly after RealNetworks announced the product last fall, at the request of the movie industry.) This ruling isn't final, but her 58-page ruling [PDF] does not contain much good news for Real.

[ Also on InfoWorld, Bill Snyder warns: Watch out, developers: Here come the lawyers | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Remember: We're not talking about a toy for BitTorrent fanboys. RealDVD allows real owners of DVDs to make backup copies of movies they have legally purchased. Using RealDVD, you can store copies of a film on up to five machines -- and that's about it. In fact, the software does a whole lot less than dozens of other more dubious DVD copying programs you can find on the Net.

As Harry McCracken at The Technologizer notes:

"RealDVD ... adds an extra layer of copy protection to prevent you from doing anything except copying a movie to one hard drive for viewing on one computer at a time. (You can’t even put the movies on a shared drive to watch them from multiple computers on one network.) The court is apparently inclined to look askance at even a fundamentally hobbled (albeit easy-to-use) DVD copier."

So what the movie studios are saying with this suit is that when you buy a DVD, you don't own that movie, you own the brittle plastic platter it comes on. And when that plastic platter gets scratched or cracked, you have the right to spend another $20 for a new one. Isn't that special? (For more on the nitty-gritty details of copyrights and wrongs, see Christina Tynan-Wood's recent Gripe Line post, "Can I make copies of my DVDs?.")

If the movie moguls' true motive was to secretly encourage movie piracy, they couldn't have come up with a better plan. Way to go, Hollywood.

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