MPAA sues Real Networks over RealDVD – and has reason to be upset

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Opinion – Real Networks and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have filed dueling lawsuits in U.S. courts with one side trying to protect the RealDVD DVD copying software and the other trying to kill it. And while one may be wondering what MPAA executives were drinking before coming up with the idea to sue a DRM-riddled software, a second look reveals why the movie industry is upset, and rightfully so.

I am not the one who usually defends the movie and music industry for its belief that consumers are willing to accept ridiculous DRM in exchange for its content and its right that its lawsuit rampage that clearly has gone out of control. And when I saw Real Networks’ suit this morning against the movie industry because of apparent threats against the company, I was convinced that that move was a PR stunt launched by Real Networks – or a reaction of silly threats from Hollywood.

Later I learned that the MPAA in fact sued Real Networks as well – and that the movie studios have all right to attack Real DVD.

Before I explain why, let’s have a quick look at the focus of the suit, the RealDVD software.

RealDVD promises to make an “exact” copy of the DVD to a hard drive.  The copying takes about 20 minutes and will need about 4-8 GB of free space for each DVD. Unlike current DVD ripping programs, the developer claims that RealDVD does not remove or alter  the CSS encryption and even adds additional DRM to the file saved on the hard drive.

A ripped file cannot be played on another computer unless that computer runs another license of RealDVD (at extra cost) as well. According to Real Networks, RealDVD-ripped files can be licensed to up to 5 PCs. The cost involved includes $50 for the first retail copy as well as $20 for each additional license (up to four additional licenses per RealDVD master copy are possible.)

When we first heard about RealDVD, we concluded that the DRM is too inconvenient and that the software is simply overpriced.  So, if the files are locked down and a mass-reproduction of the content is prevented, why would the movie industry sue Real Networks? Simple: Think about rental DVDs.   

According to the MPAA, the “RealDVD software enables users to engage in an illegal 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, only to rent another popular title and make permanent copies of it, repeating the cycle of theft over and over again without ever making a purchase.” Common sense suggests that the movie industry clearly has a point here.

Interestingly, the MPAA also claims that Real Networks circumvents the CSS encryption system.

Broken down to its pieces, the movie industry believes that consumers could subscribe to services such as Netflix over a limited period of time and create, for example by using an entertainment PC, a respectable movie library from content they never purchased in the first place. Obviously, that is a reason for concern and the concern may be big enough to convince a court to grant the MPAA’s request “to stop Real Networks from distributing the company’s RealDVD software.”

But let’s be realistic. RealDVD isn’t a particularly interesting software due to its heavy use of DRM anyway; its success and its use may be very limited. And let’s not forget that movie studios typically claim that not a copy here and there is what they are concerned about, but the illegal mass distribution of ripped movies across the Internet – a scenario that is not supported by RealDVD anyway.

Today’s lawsuits and silly claims by the MPAA such as

“Real Networks 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.”    

reveal that the IT and movie industry have yet to find common ground to match their interests. I actually have a better idea: Perhaps someone should begin asking consumers what they want.