EFF: Hollywood's RealDVD suit is a smokescreen

Internet advocacy group accuses Motion Picture Association of America of being less concerned about stopping piracy than it is about controlling innovation.

Hollywood isn't suing RealNetworks over piracy--that's just a smokescreen, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The group that advocates for the rights of Internet users said in a blog post Friday night that the the primary reason the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed a copyright suit against RealNetworks and is trying to halt the sale of the RealDVD software is to make sure the company, and anyone else wishing to build movie players, gets Hollywood's permission first.

"It has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with controlling innovation," said Fred von Lohmann, EFF's senior attorney.

The studios accused RealNetworks in a copyright suit of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and breaching its contract with the DVD Copy Control Association, the group that oversees the licenses that manufacturers need to build DVD players. On Tuesday, Hollywood convinced U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel to keep RealDVD off the market until November 17 at the earliest.

"It has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with controlling innovation."
--Fred von Lohmann, senior attorney for EFF

The studios told the judge that RealDVD enables consumers to build huge film libraries without paying a cent. They just need to rent a movie and use RealDVD to copy and store the material to their hard drives. Lawyers for the MPAA described the "rent, rip and return" scenario and told the judge this could cost the film industry billions. But in his post, von Lohmann points out what many others have already noted: there is software readily available on the Internet that copies and stores films on hard drives. Most of it is unencumbered with any of the copy protections found on RealDVD.

"Hollywood can't possibly believe that the $30, DRM-hobbled RealDVD software represents a piracy threat," von Lohmann wrote. The studios are using the lawsuit to "send a message about what happens to those who innovate without permission in a post-DMCA world."

The licensing agreements tech firms are required to sign before making movie players are a means of control, said von Lohmann. The licenses "define what the devices can and can't do thereby protecting Hollywood business models from disruptive innovation," he said. Representatives from RealNetworks and the MPAA could not be reached Friday.

Watermarks and DRM
The licenses also give Hollywood the power to ask a that tech companies help in the fight against piracy, says von Lohmann.

"In the course of these years-long negotiations, Hollywood has managed to wrest several important concessions from technology vendors," von Lohmann wrote. They "include requiring that computers do watermark detection to spot pirated copies when reading data from Blu-ray discs, and imposing DRM on resulting copies."

Why RealDVD is so threatening to the studios is that RealNetworks has the potential to start a rebellion among gadget makers. The company is thumbing its nose at Hollywood's licensing deals and telling the courts that it only needs to protect the DVD's contents, which RealDVD does. If RealNetworks is allowed to build a player without a license, then others will follow. Hollywood wants to avoid that at all costs, according to von Lohmann.

"By reading the existing CSS license carefully," von Lohmann wrote, "Real found a way to create a new product category without first getting permission from the Hollywood studios."

He suggests that Hollywood isn't against allowing people to back up their DVDs. He said we might see products that enable people to make copies. It's just that the studios want to share in the profits made by such products.

RealNetworks and the MPAA aren't due in court against until mid-November.

 

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