The latest joke of a lawsuit
from Hollywood, over Real Networks' RealDVD software, began today. The movie studios were actually able to get the judge to close the courtroom and kick out the press
, despite not following the normal procedures to request such a move. If you haven't followed the case at all, basically Hollywood is suing RealNetworks for making software that allows you to back up your own DVDs, though it places significant limitations on them. What's really odd about this is that there are tons of free DVD rippers out there that put no restrictions whatsoever. In Real's case, it puts significant limitations on the backup copies -- and courts have shown in the past that making a backup of a digital good is accepted as fair use. Taking Real's product off the market makes almost no sense at all.
However, it seems like Hollywood's argument is based on the claim that Real somehow is using "hacker" technology
in its product that violates the DMCA. It's not clear why using hacker technology should make the situation any different than having built your own. The MPAA is also claiming that there is no fair use defense to backing up a DVD
, which is difficult to believe, given that fair use covers backups of music and software. What makes a movie so different? Well, the MPAA, of course, will claim (as it did in a previous case, against 321 Studios
) that the encryption makes it illegal.
And that's where the problems come in. Thanks to the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA, an action that is clearly fair use (backing up a movie) becomes illegal not because of the backup, but because of the circumvention of the DRM. That should go against all common sense: if the action itself is legal fair use, why should it matter how it's done (or who made the software)? Unfortunately, we don't often see common sense win out in these cases... and the early reports from the court room suggest that the judge is siding with the MPAA. Perhaps this isn't a surprise. Marilyn Hall Patel is the same judge who declared Napster illegal as well, despite a strong safe harbor defense. In this case, she told RealNetworks:
"They have the copyright. That's the issue here right? They have the copyright.
They have the right to exclude."
That's actually a somewhat scary quote from the judge who should know better. Copyright does give them a right to exclude, but a limited right
, which is supposed to be weighed against the rights of consumers, including their rights to fair use for things like (drum roll....) making a backup.