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9/8/2008
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RealNetworks Offers 'Licensed' DVD Copying

The legality of the RealDVD application, which allows users to save DVD content on a computer's hard drive, remains questionable.

At the DEMOFall '08 conference in San Diego, RealNetworks introduced RealDVD, a PC application that allows users to save DVD content on a computer's hard drive.

Consumers have been able to save DVD content on hard drives for years using programs like HandBrake, but such programs appear to violate copyright law. "Every court to have looked at an unlicensed DVD ripper (DVD X Copy, deCSS, etc.) has found that it violates the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] to distribute it," said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohmann in an e-mail.

RealNetworks says that RealDVD is "licensed DVD software." The copies it creates are made without stripping the CSS encryption that Hollywood studios once hoped would prevent the unauthorized copying of their content. CSS encryption, however, turned out to be weak and was broken in 1999 by Norwegian programmer Jon Lech Johansen and two other unidentified individuals.

In a statement, Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, characterized RealDVD as a way for consumers to get more out of their DVDs. At $30 for a limited time and $50 thereafter, RealDVD may also be a way for RealNetworks to get more of consumers' DVDs.

Cynthia Brumfield, president of media consultancy Emerging Media Dynamics, said in an e-mail that she's not sure what the value of RealDVD is. "For one thing, people make unauthorized copies using illegal software now and pay nothing for it," she said. "For another thing, how large a market can there be for people who want to legally copy a DVD to their own PC (as opposed to simply playing the disc on the DVD player)?"

RealNetworks suggests that people traveling on business or with kids will appreciate RealDVD as a way to carry movies on a laptop without any discs to manage. It claims that RealDVD will also prolong laptop battery life because the DVD drive will no longer need to be powered for playback.

Brumfield believes that Real Networks may be taking a legal risk because the legality of DVD ripping has not been solidly affirmed. "Not only will Hollywood turn against the company, but it will also likely step up its legal efforts against a mass market-oriented DVD copying program, exposing RealNetworks to potentially huge legal liabilities," she said.

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