The question of whether consumers will be given a legal means to make copies of DVDs inched closer to an answer this week as a preliminary hearing got under way in the movie studios' case against RealNetwork's DVD-ripping software.
The case before U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel--the same judge who ruled against Napster--was filed last year by the Motion Picture Association of America in an attempt to stop the sale of RealNetwork's RealDVD software. RealDVD lets users copy DVDs to their computer hard drive. The case is being watched closely as it has the potential to lead to an overhaul of Hollywood's DVD business model.
At the heart of case, the MPAA alleges that RealDVD violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) because it bypasses the copy protection built into DVDs. The DMCA prohibits companies from developing products that circumvent antipiracy protections. Real Networks has long denied that the encryption technology is ever cracked by RealDVD.
The hearing got off to a dramatic start last week when Patel temporarily sealed the San Francisco courtroom, buying arguments from MPAA attorneys and the Hollywood-based DVD Copy Control Association that trade secrets might be disclosed during testimony. The courtroom was sealed once again on Wednesday, for the same reasons. CNET News objected in both instances.
Testimony that was heard publicly focused on just how easy RealDVD makes it for people to copy DVDs--and how many times they can do it. The film industry tried to show that the software entrusts RealNetworks with the job of protecting digital film copies from piracy.
The MPAA called up upon a security expert who said RealDVD's copy controls can be altered or removed all together from Real's servers in the form of a software update, and those limits could easily be removed all together by removing just one line of code.
RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser acknowledged that RealDVD could be used to make unauthorized copies of DVD rentals, but the company does all it can to "steer people away from that," including limiting playback of copies to five separate machines. Moreover, he said the problem could be eliminated if the major movie studios helped create a way to identify a movie as a rental.
But perhaps the most revealing testimony from Glaser was about a sort of DVD jukebox the company is working on, codenamed "Facet." Glaser demonstrated the box, which comes equipped with a hard drive and software that enables owners to duplicate DVDs--in a similar fashion as RealDVD--and then store hundreds of movies on the device. Facet may in fact be much more important to Real than RealDVD, the proceeding revealed.
The preliminary hearing in the case is expected to resume at the end of next week.