The future of RealDVD Jukebox hangs on one judge's decision

In 2007, RealNetworks began to develop a set-top DVD archiver/player similar to Kaleidescape under the project name "Facet." It was this idea that spawned the creation of RealDVD, a piece of software that allows copy-protected DVDs to be copied, compressed, and saved on a user's hard drive. However, that software was temporarily pulled off the market thanks to a copyright infringement suit from the DVD Copy Control Association and six major Hollywood studios (Disney, Paramount/Viacom, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros.).

The suit began last October and has involved relentless mudslinging between the parties. In the beginning, the studios claimed the product should have been called "StealDVD," and that it "clearly violate[s] the law." Most recently, RealNetworks called the six Hollywood studios "an illegal cartel," and charged them with antitrust violations.

RealNetworks did acknowledge the DVD Copy Control Association's initial concern, and has said that its products could be exploited by those who "rent, rip, and return" movies; that is, those who rent DVDs and copy the rental for their own collections. In the company's written testimony, it said, "RealNetworks discourages such conduct and warns consumers that the product is not to be used to copy DVDs that the user does not own." The company suggested that it should be the studios' responsibility to mark discs sold to the rental channel, and without studio cooperation, there is no way a piece of software can tell if existing discs have been purchased or simply rented, and that CSS is so broken that there are literally hundreds of different programs that circumvent it to facilitate copying.

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The company maintains, though, that there's really no reason why a DVD owner should not be able to copy their movies for their own use, and that in the company's set-top box, those copies are locked and safe from illegal trade.

Yesterday, at the most recent hearing for the case, the MPAA argued a single copy, no matter what the purpose, is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The only backup copy Congress imagined, MPAA attorney Bart Williams said, is a pure archival backup copy that goes unplayed until the first copy is defunct.

Williams also pointed out that Real will be violating the same DMCA rules that helped it win its 1999 suit against Streambox, a set of devices which allowed users to bypass the copy protection on Real's streaming RealAudio files.

Upon closure of that case, RealNetworks' then-Vice President Alex Alban said "[The Court] upheld the basic principle that it is illegal to circumvent copy protection mechanisms in order to record streams against the wishes of copyright holders."

For now, the case between RealNetworks and the six Hollywood studios is adjourned. It is now up to District Court Judge Marylin Patel to decide who is right.

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