Kaleidescape escapes


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Score one for common sense. A California Superior Court judge ruled this week that Kaleidescape Inc. did not breach its contract with the DVD Copy Control Association when it manufactured and sold a high-tech system that let consumers copy the DVDs they owned onto a home video jukebox.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not going to do my usual legalistic pantomime on this one. As a principle, I accept that contracts are binding when properly done. On the other hand, you have to wonder whose interests were served by this litigation. Kaleidescape sells extremely high-end gear -- at the time of the lawsuit, the entry-level system cost $27,000. Its systems are closed networks with military-grade security, so even if a Kaleidescape owner should rip a copy of a movie he/she rented from Netflix (because, having spent $27,000 on a state-of-the-art video jukebox, the person isn’t likely to drop $15 for a copy of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’?!?), those bits will never leave the building. By contrast, a pirate equipped with a $900 Dell can easily transform an encrypted DVD into an unencrypted file, then burn multiple copies of the movie for friends and offer it online to downloaders around the globe.


So clearly, this case wasn’t about protecting Hollywood against bootleggers. Instead, it seemed to be about stopping Kaleidescape from doing something nifty and compelling that other consumer-electronics companies were either too timid or not clever enough to do. Unlike more conventional jukeboxes that rely on a multi-DVD changer, Kaleidescape hard-drive-based system enables better ways to search through movie collections, put bookmarks in films, create customized playlists and video mixes, and view films in multiple rooms. So while its products are hardly mainstream, Kaleidescape’s approach is as logical an application of the technology as an iPod or Picasa.

The DVD CCA is likely to appeal the ruling, but a better response would be to clear the way for people to copy DVDs legally onto home servers. That’s something the DVD CCA has been discussion for more than a year, but approval has been delayed by a fight over whether new DVD players should include technology to detect and block bootlegged films. Perhaps those talks will have a new sense of urgency now.

The logo pictured above is Kaleidescape’s.