RealDVD for legitimate users, CEO tells court

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser took the stand Tuesday in his company's ongoing legal battle against the motion picture industry, arguing that RealNetworks' DVD-copying software is not designed to create a free-for-all of illegal copying.

Real's CEO argued that RealDVD, was "absolutely not" designed to facilitate the widespread mass copying of DVDs. "We were both designing our product and marketing our product for legitimate use," he said. "If they didn't want to be legitimate users, there were so many other alternatives they could go to and our product would be an inferior product."

The software was abruptly pulled from the market by court order after the major studios sued RealNetworks, just weeks after RealDVD was introduced in September 2008.

The legal dispute has pitted the technology industry against Hollywood. RealNetworks argues that its software simply gives legitimate users the freedom and convenience of storing their own DVDs on a PC, and with the motion picture industry arguing that RealDVD could be used to do things such as make illegal copies of rented DVDs.

Glaser said that his company had been in discussions with studios to create technology that would distinguish rented DVDs from store-bought ones.

RealNetworks also puts up reminders to users that they are not allowed to copy disks they do not own, Glaser said. The judge hearing the case, Marilyn Patel, then asked him if this effort would be more effective than the failed 1980s "Just say no" anti-drug campaign.

"Yes I do," Glaser said, arguing that the target audience for the RealDVD products was law-abiding. "It's not trying to convince 15-year-olds not to experiment."

Glaser argued that scofflaws are unlikely to use RealDVD, which costs US$30 and comes with copy protection mechanisms that make it difficult to disseminate any copies of a DVD. There are "dozens of products" that DVD pirates could use if they wanted to make illegal copies, Glaser said. "All you have to do is Google DVD ripper."

Computer users have been able to make unrestricted copies of DVDs since late 1990s when Norwegian hackers cracked the Content-Scrambling System (CSS) devised by the music industry to copy-protect DVDs and released their DeCSS software on the Internet.

Real was sued by Disney, Paramount, Sony, Twentieth Century Fox, NBC Universal, Warner Brothers, Viacom on Sept. 30, 2008. It filed countersuit the same day. The DVD Copy Control Association, which licenses the CSS system, is also involved in the case.

Motion picture attorneys spent much of the day Tuesday questioning their expert witness Robert Schumann and arguing that RealNetworks had deliberately circumvented copy protection mechanisms, in particular the ARccOS (Advanced Regional Copy Control Operating Solution) and RipGuard technologies used by some studios, in order to build RealDVD.

Prosecutors showed email correspondence between RealNetwork engineers and developers with a Kiev, Ukraine, software development company called Rocket Division Software, discussing ways to circumvent the technology.

On the stand, Glaser said that RealDVD and ARccOS were not effective copy protection technologies, because they did not prevent another DVD copying product, called Kaleidescape, from making copies of DVDs. "Whatever kind of speed bumps or impediments there were, [in these products] they didn't effectively stop the copying because Kaleidescape was doing it," he said.

The Kaleidescape reference was probably not accidental. Kaleidescape won a similar case against the motion picture industry in 2007, and their high-end home entertainment product inspired Glaser to push ahead with RealDVD.

"Kaleidescape is kind of like a Porsche. It's a beautiful product, but it's very, very expensive," Glaser said. "We thought we could use modern technology to deliver something that's more like a Chevy"

Although observers have hoped that RealNetworks may be testing the limits of consumers to copy digital media under the fair use provisions of U.S. law, the case may end up turning on a more mundane question, according to Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has been watching the case. That question is whether or not the CSS licensing agreement Real signed in order to build its product prohibits copying, he said.

In the Kaleidescape case, the court found that the agreement did not prohibit copying, von Lohmann said. That case is being appealed, however.

Ultimately, the RealNetwork case is yet another chapter of the ongoing struggle between entertainment companies and Silicon Valley to see who will ultimately control digital media. If the motion picture industry wins the trial, it "sends a strong message to the technology industry, von Lohmann said: "You can't touch DVDs unless you negotiate with Hollywood first."

Glaser's testimony is set to continue Wednesday. The case is being heard in the U.S. Federal Court for the Northern District of California, in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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