RealDVD: Coming to Court TV

Why is this girl smiling? For heaven's sake, doesn't she know she's just been sued? Well, actually, it's RealNetworks that has entered a new dimension of legal adventure. All because of its RealDVD software. You know, the stuff that lets you rip and archive DVDs, as we fully informed you a while back.

Six Hollywood studios took a dim view of RealDVD and filed suit to stop the sale of the $30 program. Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, Warner Bros, Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Company, and Sony all said, "Hey! Wait a second! We own those movies, and don't want folks to be making copies." Hence a cab ride over to the United States District Court in Los Angeles, seeking an injunction. In swift response, RealNetworks countersued the studios in San Francisco . . .

The studios argue that RealDVD violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 because it bypasses the copying safeguards built into the format. As reported by Brad Stone in the New York Times, Greg Goeckner, executive vice president and general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America said, "RealDVD should be called StealDVD. RealNetworks knows its product violates the law, and undermines the hard-won trust that has been growing between America's moviemakers and the technology community." According to the studios, RealDVD will motivate buyers to rent, copy, and return DVDs instead of buying them. According to the suit, the software creates an incentive to rip rental DVDs that is "all but overwhelming."

In response, RealNetworks says RealDVD lets users make backup copies of movies or put movies on a laptop for convenience while traveling. It also argues that RealDVD is legal because of a decision last year in a case against Kaleidescape, a media-server manufacturer. RealNetworks also says RealDVD obeys Hollywood's rules on DVD protection by encrypting the digital copies, thus preventing online file sharing. In a statement, RealNetworks said, "We are disappointed that the movie industry is following in the footsteps of the music industry and trying to shut down advances in technology, rather than embracing changes that provide consumers with more value and flexibility for their purchases."

Let the games begin. -Ken C. Pohlmann