The RealDVD Situation

I have been following the story of the lawsuit over RealDVD. Here are a few: Update on RealDVD vs MPAA, RealDVD and Movie Industry Again — And Bob Barr, Too, MPAA vs RealDVD — Why You Care, Times Change, Some Industries Don’t Want To
So here is recent news:
• On August 11th, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted the movie industry’s request for a preliminary injunction barring the sale of RealDVD, software designed for copying a DVD to a computer hard drive for backup and portable personal use.
• The injunction was granted on the grounds that RealDVD, despite being one of the only commercial DVD-ripping software packages that respected copyright through use and copy restrictions, technically violated the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
See: Agonist: Movie Industry Bent on Killing Itself Like Music Industry Did,

I haven’t blogged about this in a dog’s age, but when I realized that Real DVD had lost in court to the movie industry, I had to post something.
. . . Sure enough, as anyone could have predicted, Judge Patel ruled against Real DVD and by extension, against fair use, freedom of information and ultimately against the interest of the very media companies she ruled in favor of. When 90% of U.S. consumers believe they should be able to make backup copies of the DVDs they purchase, its a futile battle to try to prevent them from doing so.
And just as with Napster, whose centralized servers potentially gave the music industry greater control of how music was distributed online, Judge Patel has ruled illegal a product made by a legitimate company that offers STRONGER copy protection than that used on DVDs.

See also: MyDD :: Stupid Laws Written by Lobbyists Do Long Term Damage

Update on RealDVD vs MPAA

I’ve been following on my blog the story of the movie industry (MPAA) lawsuit to keep RealDVD off the market and why you care. I wrote about business models,

“If this is about stopping people from watching their movies on their computer without having to have the actual DVD present, then MPAA is trying to fit customers into their business model, not the other way around.
[. . .] By holding up RealDVD MPAA may be trying to get the company to decide to just dcqapay them a license fee to get them off their back. If that is the case this isn’t an argument over the definition of piracy at all, it is an abuse of the law and court system.”

A survey commissioned by the National Consumers League was released today and it found that an overwhelming number of DVD owners watch their DVDs on their computers (69%) and want to be able to save them on their computers (90%). Not only that but “more than a third said they’ve had to rebuy lost or damaged DVDs,” And for those with children that rose to 45%.
This is called a business opportunity. An overwhelming number of people want something and RealDVD has developed a product satisfies what those customers want. So you would think MPAA would be happy that a product is out there that promotes the idea of people buying DVDs and then using them the way they want to use them.
Where is the business case for the MIAA to object to this? The product doesn’t let people give copies of the DVDs to others to the harm to MPAA isn’t clear. Maybe the MPAA has a different kind of business model in mind: Instead of making a product that people want, they’re trying that other kind of business model – the one where you get the government to force someone to hand you money (or hand you money themselves.) Maybe they see RealDVD as a money-making opportunity in which Real reaches a “settlement” of giving MPAA a fee per unit sold?
It was recently announced that the case goes to court on April 24. So keep an eye out for that.

RealDVD and Movie Industry Again — And Bob Barr, Too

OK I’m back on the RealDVD thing again. And I can’t believe I’m going to quote Bob Barr.
Yesterday Bob Barr was in my local paper with, Movie industry’s shortsighted fight,

There is now unfolding in a federal court in San Francisco a lawsuit in which several major Hollywood movie studios are suing RealNetworks – a relatively small but successful company that develops and markets Internet communications technology – in an effort to prevent the company from selling a software product that simply enables consumers to copy their DVDs to their personal computers. If the studios are successful in this Goliath-against-David legal action, [Thomas] Edison’s lesson in hard work will have been effectively reduced to, “genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent permission.”

The movie industry is suing to keep RealDVD off the market, claiming it violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In my opinion the DMCA was a bought-and-paid-for law in the first place, requiring computer and other consumer electronics companies to implement hardware controls that keep you from being able to do all kinds of things with digital media. (It’s the law that lets RIAA sue kids and deceased grandmothers.) But, not satisfied with those restrictions, the movie industry is now trying to control technology that is clearly not covered by DMCA. RealDVD lets you copy a DVD onto your computer. You can’t even make a copy of that. It think maybe this is all about the movie industry wanting to force the company to pay them royalties.
I wrote before about copyright protections, “Of course within reason this is necessary and proper.” But that’s within reason, this isn’t. Barr writes, “the sky would not fall on the movie industry were it to back away from its unfortunate legal action against RealDVD.” Amen.

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MPAA vs RealDVD — Why You Care

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is suing to stop RealPlayer’s RealDVD from being sold to computer owners. RealDVD lets you make backup copies of your movie DVDs onto your computer. It doesn’t let you make new DVDs or share the files from your computer with others — it just lets you keep for yourself a backup. MPAA says this means computer users “steal” movies.
Why do you care? This affects you because it is another case of big corporations using their ability to influence our government to gain financial advantages that cost us money and convenience.
The MPAA sues people and companies that they say are “stealing” their movies. Of course within reason this is necessary and proper. But in their efforts to protect movie company profits, MPAA has been going too far, acting similarly to the infamous Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the recording industry group that sues anyone they suspect may have downloaded a tune, in order to make an example of them. (See MPAA Sues Grandfather for $600,000. His 12-year-old son had downloaded a movie.)
But fear that people are “stealing” may not be the real reason behind this lawsuit. In Why Hollywood Hates RealDVD, Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann writes that this is about a strategy to force Real and others to pay license fees to MPAA when they come up with new technologies. He writes that MPAA’s position,

“. . . forces technology companies to enter into license agreements before they build products that can play movies. . . . Those license agreements, in turn, define what the devices can and can’t do, thereby protecting Hollywood business models from disruptive innovation.”

This fight traces back to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA limits how technology can be used, even limiting researchers from studying various kinds of computer encryption and other algorithms. Basically, it says that companies can’t make products that enable people to distribute their own copies of copyrighted material. Copyrighted music and movies contain code that tells the computer that this file can’t be copied, and computers and programs have to contain code that recognizes this.
Copyright, according to our constitution, is intended to “promot[ing] the progress of science and useful arts”. The idea was to grant a legal monopoly on profiting from this kind of work for a few years to provide an incentive and reward for scientific research and creativity. This means the government uses its power to stop competition. As it applies to the arts this is how authors, musicians, filmmakers and others are able to make a living at all and that is why it is in the Constitution. But like so many corporate-inspired distortions of our laws and values in the last several years, the DMCA is primarily about benefiting big, established corporations and blocking rather than promoting innovation. In fact, when used like this it stifles innovation.
Something we have seen in recent years is businesses misusing legal tactics to increase profits. In other words, using their money-bought influence over our government to get special favors such as tax breaks, subsidies, grants of monopolies, “no-bid” contracts, etc.
Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society. He teaches and writes in the areas of constitutional law, contracts, and the law of cyberspace. In 1999 he said, “This is law and code conspiring to tilt market forces quite decidedly in one direction rather than another.”
More recently Lessig has written

“. . . when the D.M.C.A. protects technology that in turn protects copyrighted material, it often protects much more broadly than copyright law does. It makes criminal what copyright law would forgive.”

So here we have MPAA suing to block people from being able to get the RealDVD program, which lets people keep a backup on their own computer in case their DVD gets scratched or lost. (Unless they pay MPAA licensing fees – wink wink, nod nod.) MPAA also wants to make people buy new DVDs. But people want to make backups in case they scratch or lose their DVDs.
This case comes to court soon, keep an eye on it.