RealDVD Creates Real Legal Mess

Dennis Faas's picture

Real Network's 'legal' DVD ripping software has already prompted legal action from the movie industry. And to confuse matters, Real has somehow filed what's effectively a pre-emptive countersuit.

As we reported recently, Real claimed its new product, RealDVD, did not breach copyright laws because it allowed users to copy an entire disc, including the copy protection system which most ripping software removes. The Motion Picture Association of America has now launched a lawsuit to coincide with the software's official release, accusing the firm of breaching copyright laws.

In an unusual legal twist, it turns out Real Network has filed its own suit against both the movie studios and the DVD Copy Control Association. Rather than seeking damages, it's a motion for what's known as a 'declaratory judgment', a court ruling on a particular point which can then be used in future cases. In this situation, Real wants the court to rule that its system doesn't break the license terms of the DVD Copy Control Association, which effectively governs the production and distribution of DVDs. (Source:

The legal dispute appears to boil down to this: Producing software that could be used to copy DVDs isn't inherently illegal, just as producing a kitchen knife that can be used for a stabbing isn't a crime. However, producing software designed to bypass copy protection systems is an offence under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The court will now have to decide between two interpretations of what counts as 'bypassing'. Real says its software is legal because it doesn't remove CSS (the protection system used on DVDs). The DVD industry says this irrelevant because CSS is meant to stop any form of copying whatsoever.

There's also some legal dispute over the exact terms of the DVD licensing system. It's recently been rewritten to specifically say a protected disc must physically be in a drive when its content is played. However, it's not clear whether these changes can be imposed retroactively, or indeed at all, without the agreement of firms using DVD technology. (Source:

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