By Jennifer LeClaire / Top Tech News. Updated September 30, 2008.
RealNetworks is feeling heat from the movie studios involving its just-released RealDVD software, and is firing back with a lawsuit.
RealDVD lets consumers store, manage and play DVDs on computers. Think of it as a DVD backup, since the software does not let users distribute copies of DVDs.
"RealDVD not only maintains the DVD's native CSS encryption intact, it also adds another layer of digital-rights-management encryption that effectively locks the DVD copy to the owner's computer to ensure that the content cannot be improperly copied or shared," the company said. "RealDVD provides consumers with a great solution for the playback and management of their DVD collections while adding security that is more robust than CSS."
That's how RealNetworks sees it. But Hollywood seems to have a different take. The company says the "major movie studios" have made threats, and RealNetworks has filed for a declaratory judgment against the DVD Copy Control Association, Disney Enterprises, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, NBC Universal, Warner Bros., and Viacom.
The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California asks for a ruling that RealNetworks Home Entertainment and RealDVD fully comply with the DVD Copy Control Association's license agreement. The company said it is taking action to protect consumers' ability to exercise fair-use rights for purchased DVDs.
"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," RealNetworks said. "We expect to successfully defend our right to make RealDVD available to consumers and consumers' rights to use it."
There is a precedent for the RealNetworks case. The DVD Copy Control Association, whose members include all the major studios, previously sued another company on the same issues. In that case, the trial court ruled against the DVD CCA and allowed the distribution of a product similar to RealDVD. As RealNetworks sees it, the major studios are trying to get a different result by going to a different court.
According to Phil Leigh, senior analyst at Inside Digital Media, RealNetworks may have a legitimate case. Consumers who purchase a DVD, he said, have the right to back it up and to play it on any device they own, regardless of whether that device has the capability to decrypt. However, he expects the studios to argue that consumers who purchase DVDs do so with the condition that the content will be encrypted.
"It is considered -- and it has been for decades -- a part of the best practices to back up all of your digital files. So it's just natural reflex for the people with computer technology in their DNA to back up everything, including movies," Leigh said. "The studios don't have that DNA and they see backing up as piracy. That's why it's difficult to make a conclusion here. Both arguments have merit."