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Court blocks Streambox from distributing products

A U.S. District Court issues a preliminary injunction barring Streambox from distributing two of its three products, pushing forward RealNetworks' lawsuit.

    A U.S. District Court has issued a preliminary injunction barring Streambox from distributing two of its three products, pushing forward RealNetworks' lawsuit that accuses Streambox of copyright infringement and unfair competition.

    RealNetworks' complaint, filed in Washington state, alleges that Streambox is violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made it illegal to supply people with technology that could be used to crack copyright protection measures.

    Under the preliminary injunction issued by Judge Marsha Pechman, throughout the duration of the trial Streambox is prohibited from distributing its VCR software, which allows computer users to record streaming media, a practice RealNetworks argues violates its content partners' copyrights.

    Streambox also is forbidden from dispensing the Streambox Ferret, a "plug-in" that reconfigures RealNetwork's player with an added button that allows users to "switch between the search engine or engines already installed on RealPlayer and the Streambox search engine, which searches the Streambox database," the court order states.

    Although RealNetworks cheered the injunction, Streambox is claiming victory on one point: The court did not bar the company from distributing one of its most popular products, the Streambox Ripper. That software lets computer users and content providers convert music and other audio files encoded by RealNetworks into other digital formats, such as Microsoft's Windows Media, MP3 and WAV.

    Major record companies have been especially vocal about their fears that the boom in digital music will lead to increased piracy.

    "RealNetworks brought this suit to protect the copyright of the content holders, who trust RealNetworks' software and systems to not only provide a high-quality user experience, but also to provide it in a format that is protected from duplication," Alex Alben, RealNetworks vice president of government affairs, said in a statement.

    The Recording Industry Association of America, for example, supports RealNetwork's action and favors encoding formats, such as Liquid Audio, which curb unauthorized digital copies. But Streambox's VCR product poses a new dilemma beyond encoding. Although the digital music piracy issue has been focused on computer users "ripping" copies of music from CDs and potentially illegally distributing them online, the Streambox VCR allows computer users to record streamed audio content the same way they could record from the radio or TV.

    Despite the injunction, Streambox is not out of business. In its court briefs, the company argued that the software is not a copyright-cracking device, but a "legitimate" tool for content providers who want to convert their recordings into other formats.

    "Streambox feels that the court made the right decision to allow consumers to be able to make their own choice on how streaming content is controlled by granting Streambox permission to sell and distribute Streambox Ripper," Robert Hildeman, Streambox's chief executive, said in a statement.

    The company also will argue that the VCR doesn't violate the DMCA.

    "This product is a recording tool directly analogous to a VCR used for making videotape recordings from television or cable broadcasts," the company stated in court documents. "The VCR allows users to 'time-shift' programming such as live radio feeds from various broadcast stations around the world, as well as Internet stations and other offerings."

    However, Pechman's preliminary injunction ruling finds that RealNetworks has made a strong case that the Streambox VCR could be violating the DMCA and that it isn't entitled to the "fair use" protections.

    "The Streambox VCR meets the first test for liability under the DMCA because at least a part of the Streambox VCR is primarily, if not exclusively, designed to circumvent the access control and copyright protection measures that RealNetworks affords copyright owners," the court order states.