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.

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.