Welcome to Life in the Digital Age!
I'm not sure if you've noticed or not, but there's a big battle going on in a San Francisco courtroom this week which may have far-reaching consequences for the casual DVD watcher. It doesn't seem to be getting a lot of press and may slip under the radar for most people. In one corner is RealNetworks, which advocates that it's software program, RealDVD, will ultimately increase DVD sales by allowing users to save digital copies of Hollywood DVDs to their computers. In the other corner is the "Hollywood Studios" led by General Electric's Universal Pictures group. The studios, are seeking a ban on sales of this software package claiming that this type of software will stimulate piracy and undermine the budding market for digital downloads. Standing in the middle between these two sparring parties is the honorable Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Some of you may remember her from her work in the A & M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., case. Judge Patel ruled "that Napster was not an ISP in the definition specified by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and was not entitled to protection under that law's safe harbor provision. The conclusion meant that Napster was responsible for policing its Internet file sharing network for materials that violate record companies' copyrights.
So what does this case really mean? As a consumer, I think it would be nice if I could archive and store back-up copies of my collection of DVD's digitally on an external hard drive. Additionally, as a frequent traveler, I would benefit from being able to transport several movies with me in digital format instead of lugging the actually DVD's and protective cases with me across the miles. You all know what a hassle it can be getting stuff through security these days. So the less I have to carry, the better off I am. Now would this software program make it easier for me to "Rent - Rip - Return" movies? Absolutely! (The rent-rip-return process is one where people rent DVD's from a store like Blockbuster Video, rip it to their computer and then return the the DVD without ever having "paid" for the lifetime rights to the product.) And would this capability make it easier for me to "share" DVD products with others? Once again the answer is Absolutely! I suspect these issues may be at the heart of the matter and if you're RealNetworks, I don't think it looks good. Given the circumstances, it looks to me like RealNetworks might be facing an uphill battle.
Apart from it's RealDVD software, RealNetworks was also developing DVD-saving software that it hoped to license to manufacturers of DVD players. That software, which the company refers to by its internal name, Facet, allows companies who sell DVD players to offer the capability of making digital copies of all discs, even movie DVDs that have anti copying software. The owners of those players could save copies of their DVDs directly onto the player. RealNetworks has built a prototype of a Facet device that runs on the Linux operating system. The device can hold about 70 movies, each takes up to 20 minutes to copy. Sounds to me like a "DVD equivalent of an Ipod/MP3 player! Could this be the continuation of the digital revolution. Is this the time when viewable media joins the ranks of audio media?
I'm not sure how this trial will turn out. File sharing software, copyrights, and peer-to-peer, programs are some of my favorite topics to discuss over a cold beverage. I don't have many of the answers but clearly there's a lot at stake for each side. Ultimately, there could be a lot at stake for the consumer. I'll leave you with this comment from Bill Way, the vice president and general counsel of RealNetworks:
"The company was only trying to make DVDs cool again. The movie industry wants people to buy DVDs and so do we. They have a real problem with piracy, and we are not that problem. I don’t think our product will make the problem one iota bigger. I think it gives people an opportunity to make digital copies of their movies in a legal way.”
Something to ponder.................