September 14, 2008

Software Headed for Hard Battle Software Headed for Hard Battle

COPYING MUSIC to a computer is a trivial thing, which people have been doing for years. Movies, though, have been another matter.

Once any kind of media - music, videos, photos - is stored on a hard drive, sharing it with others, including people who didn't buy it, is as simple as sending an e-mail.

That ease has transformed the balance of power in the recording industry, where studios are still trying to react and regain their pre-digital profits. Film companies, watching the damage done to their counterparts in music, have spent years trying to avoid the same fate.

If it's hard to imagine a world without iPods, those great storehouses of songs, it remains equally hard to imagine a world in which bookcases of DVDs are instead stored on a single hard disk, available in an instant. It can be done, of course, but it has been neither easy nor legal so far.

Now comes Real Networks . The company will soon begin selling software to copy a DVD's contents, including its copy protection, to a hard drive (though not, it should be noted, to an iPod).

There have been, over the years, companies that have tried to sell similar software, but they've all been shut down by the movie industry, which had won those fights until a ruling last year. Despite that precedent, whether Real Networks can survive the coming onslaught remains very much in doubt.

If it does - or even if it appears it might - this is a software niche that will quickly become crowded, including with some of the digital media industry's largest companies. And that's the moment when movies might finally move toward becoming as portable and convenient as music already is.

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