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4/24/2009
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Napster Judge Hears Hollywood, RealNetworks Arguments

The movie studios sued RealNetworks in 2008, accusing the company of violating their copyrights.

Hollywood and RealNetworks squared off Friday in front of a federal judge who will decide whether to allow RealNetworks to resume selling DVD-copying software.

The San Francisco hearing, which is expected to last three days, will determine whether a previous court ruling preventing RealNetworks from selling RealDVD should stand until the legality of the software is settled in a trial. The movie studios sued RealNetworks in 2008, accusing the company of violating their copyrights.

U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel could rule immediately after the hearing or at a later date. Patel is best known as the presiding judge in the record industry's lawsuit against file-sharing site Napster. Patel in 2000 ruled that Napster was responsible for policing its network for copyrighted material, a landmark decision that was upheld on appeal. The ruling effectively led to the demise of the site.

On Friday, Patel heard opening arguments from both sides, followed by witnesses called by the Motion Picture Association of America. As part of its case, RealNetworks plans to call chief executive Rob Glaser as a witness Tuesday, a company spokesman told InformationWeek.

At issue is RealNetworks' right to sell technology that allows someone to copy a rented or purchased DVD onto a PC. The $30 software, which is aimed at people who want to be able to watch the movie on a laptop, does not strip the copyright-protection technology on the DVD. In addition, RealNetworks adds another layer of protection that prevents the movie file from being opened on any device other than the one it was originally copied to.

RealNetworks argues its software is legal based on a 2007 California court ruling that found a similar application legal. The software from home entertainment technology company Kaleidoscope made it possible to store secure copies of DVDs and CDs for more convenient playback from a PC.

However, the MPAA argues that allowing technology like RealNetworks' would hurt DVD sales, because people would choose to rent and then copy films to create a digital movie library, rather than buying DVDs. Joining MPAA in the lawsuit is the DVD Copy Control Association, which is accusing RealNetworks of violating its license to use the DVD CCA's Hollywood-sanctioned copyright-protection technology. RealNetworks builds on that technology for the security in RealDVD.

The case is just the latest in Hollywood's legal battle to maintain a strict definition of legal copying under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows people to copy legally purchased movies and music for personal use.

In the RealNetworks case, the company claims Hollywood's true motive is to prevent the company from competing against similar software the movie studios ship with premium DVDs.


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