Hollywood Calls RealNetworks DVD Copying a Threat

Hollywood titans argue that a DVD ripper by RealNetworks presents a huge threat to film studios' revenue and have taken the software company to federal court over the issue. RealNetworks argues that its DVD-copying software is legitimate. The federal judge presiding over the trial is the same one who ordered the shutdown of Napster in 2000.

RealNetworks was in federal court in San Francisco on April 24, squaring off against Hollywood attorneys over RealDVD, a $29.99 software application that allows DVDs to be copied onto a user's hard drive. Attorneys representing the major film studios argue that allowing RealDVD to be sold unchecked will undermine the $20 billion DVD market.

Lawyers for the studios argue that RealDVD violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which says that software that could be utilized for digital piracy is illegal. RealNetworks, on the other hand, argues that its software serves the legitimate purpose of letting users make a single copy of a DVD that they already own.

According to the Associated Press, RealNetworks asserts that RealDVD leaves DVDs' anti-piracy encryption untouched, separating it from other software deliberately used for digital piracy.

The studios, however, remain unswayed by this argument.

"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," Greg Goeckner, lawyer for the MPAA, told the Associated Press. "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."

An eWEEK review of RealDVD found that the program contains some useful filtering features that let users view films by genre, cast, director or rating, and contains all the standard-issue DVD-playing features.

However, RealNetworks also "added an additional layer of DRM on top of the CSS that it retains from the native DVD." This means that movies are backed up onto the hard drive they are saved on, preventing the film from being watched on multiple PCs. Limitations were apparently made to the software's portability to prevent it from suffering the wrath of the movie industry.

The movie industry, though, decided to wrath anyway. In October, a U.S. District judge ordered sales of RealDVD halted a few days after the software's release, saying that despite the MPAA-appealing measures, it violated digital privacy laws.

A ruling in the current federal case is not expected immediately. According to reports, the presiding judge is the same one who ordered Napster, the once-immensely popular file-sharing service, to be shut down in 2000.