U.S. Judge Weighs DVD Copying Case

Yesterday, a Federal District Court judge in California heard arguments regarding a DVD copyright case between Hollywood movie companies and RealNetworks. Depending on what the judge rules, you and I may or may not be able to legally copy our own DVD collections to our computers.

In October, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel temporarily halted sales of RealNetworks' software that allows people to make backups of their DVDs on a home computer. After hearing arguments regarding the case, the judge is expected to issue a written decision. No timeframe for when she might rule has been given.

During the hearings, additional evidence was presented regarding whether RealNetworks violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and the license it had with the DVD Copy Control Association. The judge is also expected to indicate what she expects will happen if the issue goes to trial.

The movie companies have argued that RealDVD software should be banned because it violates copyright law and encryption methods. The movie companies also claim RealDVD reduces the cost of a DVD to nothing or to the cost of a movie rental because users could borrow a DVD from a friend or rent it and then copy it.

RealNetworks claims DVD owners have a right to make copies of their own DVDs under “fair use.” The company did admit the software could be used for sharing among friends. "Those are cumbersome ways to make copies and those are not the markets we are targeting, but yes, it can happen," said Don Scott, a lawyer for the Seattle-based digital media company. If necessary, RealNetworks is willing to rewrite portions of the code in order to address specific concerns.

Movie studios currently sell their own backup copies of movies. Because the studios hold the copyrights to those movies, they are not violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

If the injunction against RealNetworks' software stands, movie studios stand to benefit from increased sales of digital backup copies. If it fails, the case could open the door for companies to sell software and devices that can store and organize movies from DVDs.

The Hollywood movie companies involved in the case are owned by Walt Disney, Time Warner, Sony, News Corp, Viacom, and General Electric. They are joined by the Motion Picture Association of America and the DVD Copy Control Association.