Keepin' it 20th Century, but Not Keepin' It Real: Judge Rules Against RealNetworks DVD Program

Backups? You should thank us for letting you buy the original in the first place!
Yesterday wasn't a good day for local tech companies in court. First, Microsoft learned it can't sell Word. And now RealNetworks can't sell its DVD copying program, RealDVD. So ruled U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel (also the judge who shut down Napster--perhaps the entertainment industry has found a preferred jurist). She granted a temporary injunction prohibiting RealNetworks from selling the product, pending an upcoming (in the next year or two) trial on the matter.

The Real ruling brings ridiculous results, regardless of whether it adheres to the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). To wit: You can rip songs off a CD onto your ipod or hard drive for more convenient enjoyment. RealDVD would let you do the same with movies, except there'd be additional protections--if you wanted to transfer the file to more than one hard drive, you'd have to pay licensing fees. (You could, however, copy a rental DVD.) Today's reality of large DVD collections and more powerful computers and mobile devices is that people like to back up and transfer their files. But Hollywood studios and Patel say that violates the DMCA--which prohibits the sale of products that circumvent encryption of digital media, even for fair use (like backing up your own material).

So now Real's product--designed to allow people to back up their movies while following the rules--is delayed for at least a year or two, if not shut down altogether. In the meantime, protection-free DVD-ripping programs are proliferating. And Real is suing the studios on antitrust grounds. Something tells me that if you asked the technology visionaries at the Motion Picture Association of America how to back up your DVDs, they'd just tell you to buy extra copies.

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