Hollywood, RealNetworks square off on DVD copying

Apr 24, 2009 By PAUL ELIAS , Associated Press Writer
FILE -- A Dec. 19, 2003, file photo shows the RealNetworks headquarters in Seattle. On Friday, April 24, 2009, in federal court in San Francisco, lawyers representing Hollywood will argue that RealNetworks Inc.'s DVD "ripper" is an illegal digital piracy tool.. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren/FILE)

(AP) -- Hollywood calls it "rent, rip and return" and contends it's one of the biggest technological threats to the movie industry's annual $20 billion DVD market - software that allows you to copy a film without paying for it.

On Friday, the showdown over the issue will take place in federal court in San Francisco, where an army of lawyers representing Hollywood will argue that RealNetworks Inc.'s DVD "ripper" is an illegal digital piracy tool.

The company, in turn, will say the $29.99 software that allows DVDs to be easily copied to computer hard drives is legitimate.

The same who shut down music-swapping site Napster in 2000 because of copyright violations will preside over the three-day trial, which is expected to cut to the heart of the same technological upheaval roiling Hollywood that forever changed the face of the music business.

The movie studios fear that if RealNetworks is allowed to sell its RealDVD software, consumers will quickly lose interest in paying retail for DVDs that can be rented cheaply, copied and returned.

Their lawyers argue the software violates a federal law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that makes software and other tools that enable digital piracy illegal. They also contend shoppers will widely condone such illegal behavior if RealNetworks' product is allowed on the market.

For its part, the Seattle-based company says its RealDVD product is designed to simply let customers back up a purchased DVD and that the software allows for only one copy to be made.

The company argues that the contract it signed with the DVD Copy Control Association, which equips DVD player manufacturers with the keys to unscrambling DVDs, allows RealDVD because the software doesn't alter or remove anti-piracy on DVDs like illicit software that is easily obtained for free online.

RealNetworks says its product legally fills growing consumer demand to convert their DVDs to digital form for convenient storage and viewing.

In October, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel temporarily barred sales of RealDVD after the product was on the market for a few days. At the time, the judge said it appeared the software did violate federal law against digital piracy, but ordered detailed court filings and the trial to better understand how RealDVD works.

The industry's lawsuit has incurred widespread wrath from bloggers, digital rights advocates and groups on both sides of the political spectrum, including former Republican congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr and the left-leaning Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The industry's critics accuse the studios of stifling innovation as they attempt to develop their own copying software.

"It's all about control," said Cato Institute scholar Timothy Lee. "No one is allowed to innovate in the DVD space without industry permission."

The industry, through the Motion Picture Association of America, counters that its goal is to stamp out piracy. It says it welcomes legitimate attempts at innovation.

"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," said Greg Goeckner, the MPAA's top lawyer. "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."

Regardless of the trial's outcome - and the judge isn't expected to rule immediately - some predict that Hollywood control over digital copies will continue to wane because of the proliferation of illegal software online.

"If Hollywood wins, I don't think much changes in the real world," said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Anybody who wants DVDs copied can download software for free in 10 minutes."

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 5

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DGBEACH
not rated yet Apr 24, 2009
Have these guys been living in a cave for the past 5 years? I can download a FREE DVD ripper from any of a thousand sites, and do the same thing.
Making the ripped movie available to other people afterwards, in my opinion, is what is wrong...after all I would have paid to view that movie! And for those who would contend that I only paid to view it once, well I can view that same dvd as many times as I want while I have it, so what's the difference?
Paradox
not rated yet Apr 24, 2009
I recently purchased a DVD that supposedly had a "free download Digital Copy". What it really was, was another scheme to to squeeze out a few more bucks, as you have to pay $1.99 FOR THE DOWNLOAD. It is such a racket! Although I agree that people should get paid for their products, I think that they go a bit too far in the copy protection bit.
docknowledge
not rated yet Apr 24, 2009
What I hate about the current Internet situation is that if I take pains to "register" or make small payments for goods or services, I never know whether I'm playing right into the hands of someone who's trying to get my personal information or is selling something protected by copyright that they've stolen.

After having been in Second Life for awhile, I'm finding that many of the "freebies" are actually stolen. I contacted one owner, they asked me NOT to make an issue of it, because they were afraid of retaliation.

The online business situation overall is so confusing, most people don't even have an idea whether they're breaking the law or not.
KBK
5 / 5 (2) Apr 24, 2009
In Canada, the laws of the land state that if you RENT a DVD, you have PURCHASED the RIGHT to VIEW this film in a PERSONAL SENSE, if and WHENEVER you DESIRE.

In Canada, if it has been rented it is FULLY LEGAL AND CORRECT to make a copy of ANY DVD you have viewed..or decide to view later...hell..1000 personal copies, if you desire. As long as they are all for the persons immediately in your household. Some can be at the cottage too.

Our copyright laws -WORK-(meaning: not corrupted by corporate influence), as we have a very controlled lobby system (it does not exist), unlike that of the us which is sadly but clearly, now, - fundamentally corrupt and a fascist state.

The clinical descriptive for the word fascism: when governments and corporations collude to work against the will of the public, for the benefit of the persons in the government and corporations. Thus the US at it's core, and in all ways, is a fascist state. It's fucked --and it's going to take work of an extreme and directed nature to fix that course.
VOR
not rated yet Apr 25, 2009
the idiotic american movie/music industry far, far overprices dvd's/cds. Their so called 'drm problem' is self-created. So they rightly get little sympathy from the general public. In reality copying dvd rentals prevents almost NO future rentals. And it prevents FEW dvd purchases. Why? Because for most people the purchase prices are way too high and this is a real barrier. If the supply of free was cut off that doesnt mean they would go out and buy! They would watch some other form of media! This is the essence of all this crap, that Movie and RIAA doesnt want to discuss or face up to. They claim all these 'loses', but thier 'estimates' are rediculously overbloated lies since most people that obtain copies for free would SELDOM or NEVER pay the prices they ask. They are NOT 'lost' customers. They are simply employing access they would not otherwise have. We would all be glad to pay reasonable prices. Like maybe about a third of current prices! Not that rental prices are too high, but purchase prices are. The industry should consider that if they made prices only a few times the rental costs, then they could actually compete with rental! MOST OF THOSE (mostly 1x)RENTAL CUSTOMERS are potential BUYERS-and the price can still be significantly above the rental cost. Price just has to make sence instead of the current NONSENCE.