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RealNetworks Launches DVD-Copying Software

RealNetworks Tuesday officially launched its DVD-copying software, RealDVD, which lets consumers take a physical DVD of a movie or TV show and copy -- or “rip” -- the content onto their PC or laptop hard drive.

But RealDVD -- which is being offered for an introductory price of $30 or free for a 30-day trial -- also came bundled with an accessory that has no easy consumer application: a lawsuit against major movie studios that suggested that the software breaks copyright law.

And the movie studios, under the banner of the Motion Picture Association of America, officially responded with their own suit against RealNetworks.

Seattle-based RealNetworks maintained that RealDVD fully complies with copy-protection mechanisms in DVDs and doesn’t infringe copyright law by allowing users to distribute copies of their DVDs. So it filed an action for a declaratory judgement against the DVD Copy Control Association, Disney Enterprises, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, NBC Universal, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Viacom in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, which asks the court to rule that the RealDVD software fully complies with the DVD Copy Control Association's license agreement.

RealNetworks cited a previous lawsuit by the MPAA against Kaleidescape over a similar DVD-copying system.

"RealNetworks took this legal action to protect consumers' ability to exercise their fair-use rights for their purchased DVDs,” the company said in a statement. “The DVD CCA, which represents numerous parties, including all of the major studios, previously sued another company over the same issues. The trial court ruled against the DVD CCA and allowed the distribution of a product similar to RealDVD. Having lost the case once, the major studios are now trying to get a different result by going to a different court. 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.”

The MPAA obviously has a somewhat different point of view -- that RealDVD illegally circumvents the CSS copyright-protection system. So it filed suit Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to attempt to stop RealNetworks from distributing the RealDVD software.

In their complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order, the studios said RealNetworks’ RealDVD violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because its software illegally bypasses the copyright protection built into DVDs that protect movies against theft.

The MPAA declared that the RealDVD software would “enable massive theft of creative content that would have a direct, negative impact on the delivery of movies, television shows and other entertainment to consumers.” In particular, it said, RealDVD can be used to support the pirating practice known as “rent, rip and return,” whereby a person rents a DVD from a legitimate business like Blockbuster or Netflix, uses the RealDVD software to make multiple permanent illegal copies of the movie and returns the DVD without ever purchasing a permanent copy.

“RealNetworks’ RealDVD should be called StealDVD,” MPAA executive vice president and general counsel Greg Goeckner said in a statement. “RealNetworks knows its product violates the law and undermines the hard-won trust that has been growing between America’s movie makers and the technology community. The major motion-picture studios have been making major investments in technologies that allow people to access entertainment in a variety of new and legal ways. This includes online video-on-demand, download-to-own, as well as legitimate digital copies for storage and use on computers and portable devices that are increasingly being made available on or with DVDs. Our industry will continue on this path because it gives consumers greater choices than ever. However, we will vigorously defend our right to stop companies from bringing products to market that mislead consumers and clearly violate the law.”