Studios win injunction against controversial DVD copying software

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Hollywood has prevailed in its battle to keep consumers from copying DVDs to their computers. Legally, anyway.

United States District Court Judge Marilyn Patel today issued a preliminary injunction blocking the sale of RealDVD, a controversial software application that allows consumers to copy DVDs to a computer’s hard drive. The standard copy protection on DVDs blocks consumers from taking the movie file off of the disc.


The six major movie studios filed suit last September in U.S. District Court in San Francisco when the RealDVD software went on the market, alleging that it illegally violated their right to restrict the use of their movies in digital form. Four days later, they won a temporary restraining order blocking the sale of the software.

RealNetworks, the maker of RealDVD, countered that it only allowed consumers to exercise their so-called fair use rights to make back-up copies. RealDVD, which cost $30, let consumers make one copy of a DVD and limited the number of computers on which they could watch that copy to five.

During court proceedings in April, RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser showed off an in-development set top box called ‘Facet’ that used the software behind RealDVD to let users save copies of DVDs and play them on a television. Its sale is blocked by the judge’s ruling as well.

Movie studios have fought aggressively to maintain the copy control on DVDs, as one of the primary sources for music piracy has been songs burned onto computer hard drives from CDs, which don’t come with any such restrictions.

There are numerous illegal software applications available on the Internet that make it relatively easy to break the copy protection on DVDs. High-definition Blu-ray discs come with more advanced copy protection that is tougher to crack.

Recently, some DVDs have shipped with a ‘digital copy’ that allows owners to transfer a movie to a computer or portable device. However, there’s currently no legal way to copy other DVDs.

‘This is a victory for the creators and products of motion pictures and television shows and for the rule of law in our digital economy,’ said Dan Glickman, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, which coordinated the studios’ case. ‘Throughout the development of RealDVD, RealNetworks demonstrated that it was willing to break the law at the expense of those who create entertainment content.’

A representative for RealNetworks didn’t respond to a request for comment. The company may appeal the ruling.

Update (7:25 PM): A RealNetworks representative e-mailed the following statement:

We are disappointed that a preliminary injunction has been placed on the sale of RealDVD. We have just received the Judge’s detailed ruling and are reviewing it. After we have done so fully, we’ll determine our course of action and will have more to say at that time.

-- Ben Fritz