DVD-Copying Tools Lose in Court, Flourish in Real Life
Over the past two days, two different commercial DVD-copying programs have gotten shot down by court rulings. Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel barred Seattle-based RealNetworks from selling its RealDVD program. And yesterday, a California appeals court reversed an earlier ruling that allowed Kaleidescape to sell its home DVD-storage system; now, that Sunnyvale, Calif., firm will have to plead its case all over again.
There are reasonable legal grounds for those two rulings. Both Real and Kaleidescape signed license agreements with the DVD Copy Control Association, the industry group behind the copying restrictions embedded in DVDs, that their products arguably breach. And the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) specifically bans attempts to circumvent those types of digital restrictions. These two companies, whatever the virtues of their software and hardware, may very well lose on appeal.
So what will those two rulings do to stop unauthorized copying of DVDs? Let me spell that out in a way that even a media mogul can grasp:
You can already rip a DVD to your hard drive to back it up or watch it on a portable device, and you don't need Hollywood's permission or any help from RealNetworks or Kaleidescape.
On a Mac, I use the free, open-source HandBrake, a wonderfully simple tool that -- when running with the free VLC player program installed -- decrypts the DVD, copies the movie and then converts it into a format suitable for the device of your choice: iPod, iPhone, PlayStation Portable, Apple TV and so on.
In Windows, things aren't so easy. If you're running a 32-bit release of XP or Vista, you can combine the free DVD43 with the Windows release of HandBrake. But if you've got a 64-bit edition of Vista, DVD43 won't work and you'll have to look elsewhere. I've had decent luck with the trialware DVDFab, but it's not nearly as elegant as HandBrake.
The movie industry may not like these programs, but there's nothing it can do about them. You can't get a file off the Internet. Period. It was idiotic to attempt that nine years ago, and the entire enterprise looks even more foolish today.
Meanwhile, Hollywood only hurts itself with this futile quest to ban software that makes DVDs more useful to law-abiding movie viewers. (The non-law-abiding type need not bother buying legal discs in the first place; between file-sharing networks and such physical-bootleg sources as the People's Republic of China, there's no lack of fraudulently procured movies.) The Los Angeles Times' Jon Healey nails it in this blog post:
By defeating Real and Kaleidescape in court, the studios and the DVD Copy Control Assn. (the inter-industry group that sued Kaleidescape) have made it harder for companies to develop new ways for people to watch Hollywood fare at home. And in doing so, Hollywood is attacking the perceived value of its products and cutting off potential outlets for growth.
The music industry, after prolonged angst, seems to have figured this out -- record labels sell their content online without copying restrictions, so you don't even need to mess with weird programs to make lawful use of your purchases. But the movie studios would apparently rather fight the future. How long do you give them before they accept reality?
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