Making one copy is stealing one copy, says MPAA
This week a landmark verdict
was handed down to RealNetworks with deep implications for fair use and personal property in America. The ruling wasn't about filesharing, piracy, or malicious computer
use. Rather, it was fight over whether users should be able to make copies of digital content that they legal own. And in a precedent-setting decision, the media companies
beat a small software vendor and fair use advocates and laid down an imposing decision -- copying DVDs that you own is illegal.
The suit filed against RealNetworks centered around the company's RealDVD software
, which ripped through protection technology to allow users to make digital copies of their legally-owned content. RealNetworks had plans to release a DVD drive/software bundle called Facet, which would make the process even quicker and easier.
The company's business
model, though, was put to the legal test. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed suit against the company over alleged violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and breach of contract in a lawsuit filed last fall. The MPAA's assertion was simple -- consumers do not have the right to copy DVD movies -- ever.
RealNetwork's defense was that the ARccOS and RipGuard protection technologies it circumvented weren't designed as anti-copying technologies, and further that anti-copying technology was built on CSS, something that RealNetworks held patents on and licensed. It argued that as it owned these rights, it had a right to alter the resulting software
This defense fell apart when it was established that ARccOS and RipGuard are not, in fact, included in the CSS license.
In the end U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel ruled against RealNetworks, ordering it to stop selling software. Wrote Judge Patel in the decision, "RealDVD makes a permanent copy of copyrighted DVD content and by doing so breaches its (Content Scramble System) License Agreement with the (DVD Copy Control Association, the group that oversees the protection of DVDs for the major Hollywood studios) and circumvents a technological measure that effectively controls access to or copying of the Studios' copyrighted content on DVDs."
The MPAA met the verdict with elation. MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman states, "We are very pleased with the court's decision. This is a victory for the creators and producers of motion pictures and television
shows and for the rule of law in our digital economy. Judge Patel's ruling affirms what we have known all along: Real took a license to build a DVD-player and instead made an illegal DVD-copier."
RealNetworks has complied with the ruling and has suspended sales on its website, though it will likely try to appeal the decision.
The case represents a landmark, precedent-setting ruling in terms of fair use. It sets the precedent that not only declares that media-copying software which circumvents copy-protection technologies is illegal, but also adds legal credence to the MPAA and RIAA's argument that consumers making copies of legally purchased DVDs and CDs is a crime
While enforcement of such laws on individual citizens is prohibitively expensive for these organizations, it gives them room to lobby law enforcement to take on the fiscal burden and begin investigating and prosecuting citizens for such offenses. The ruling also raises questions about what exactly amounts to infringement