April 24, 2009

Hollywood Takes DVD Copying Software To Federal Court

Hollywood is taking on RealNetworks Inc. to federal court on Friday after claiming its DVD "ripping" program is an illegal digital piracy tool, the Associated Press reported.

But RealNetworks is arguing that its $29.99 software that allows DVDs to be easily copied to computer hard drives is legitimate.

The movie industry suggests that consumers will quickly lose interest in paying retail for DVDs that can be rented cheaply, copied and returned should RealNetworks continue to be allowed to sell its RealDVD software.

Representatives for the major movie studios say the software violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a federal law that makes software and other tools that enable digital piracy illegal.

But RealNetworks maintains that its RealDVD product is simply designed to let customers back up a purchased DVD and that the software allows for only one copy of any ripped disc.

It claims a contract the company signed with the DVD Copy Control Association, which equips DVD player manufacturers with the keys to unscrambling DVDs, which makes the software legal in that it doesn't alter or remove anti-piracy encryption on DVDs like other software online that is freely accessed.

The Seattle-based RealNetworks claims RealDVD legally fills growing consumer demand to convert their DVDs to digital form for convenient storage and viewing.

RealDVD was temporarily barred in October after the product was on the market after only a few days. U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said it appeared the software did violate federal law against digital piracy.

However, she ordered detailed court filings and the trial to better understand how RealDVD works.

The industry's critics, including bloggers and digital rights advocates, have expressed outrage over the lawsuit, accusing the studios of stifling innovation as they attempt to develop their own copying software.

Cato Institute scholar Timothy Lee believes it is all an issue over control. "No one is allowed to innovate in the DVD space without industry permission," he suggested.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the movie industry, says its mission is to stamp out piracy and it welcomes any legitimate attempts at innovation.

Greg Goeckner, the MPAA's top lawyer, said RealNetworks acted in bad faith by taking a license to build a DVD player and instead built a copier that violates the circumvention rules of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by enabling consumers to copy DVDs illegally.

"Our objective is to get the illegal choices out of the marketplace and instead focus constructively with the technology community on bringing in more innovative and flexible legal options for consumers to enjoy movies," he stated.

But many in Hollywood predict that control over digital copies will continue to wane because of the proliferation of illegal software online.

Fred von Lohmann, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggested that if Hollywood wins, not much changes in the real world.

"Anybody who wants DVDs copied can download software for free in 10 minutes," he added.


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