RealDVD Gets Its Day in Court

Remember RealDVD from Real Networks? The software, which let you rip a copy-protected DVD to a hard drive for viewing on your computer, barely made it out of the door before the DVD Copy Control Association and a group of studios won a temporary restraining order blocking its sale. It took six months, but a judge in U.S. District Court in San Francisco will finally begin considering the legal merits of the case in a hearing on Friday.

The studios and DVDCCA contend that RealDVD violates the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that prohibit “circumvention” of technical means of preventing the copying of copyright-protected content. Real contends that it has a license from DVDCCA and that it is not circumventing the Content Scramble System used to protect DVDs.

The case seems to have gotten more complicated since it was filed, but the heavily redaction of the version of the briefs (PDF) made public makes it very difficult to understand just what the additional arguments are about. It seems that the studios have added a charge that RealDVD also circumvents Sony's ARccOS and Macrovision's RipGuard protection. Real denies the charge, but the heavy editing, apparently intended to keep proprietary or sensitive details of the technologies from becoming public, renders large parts of the discussion incomprehensible.

The hearing could result either in the temporary restraining order being lifted, in which case RealDVD sales could resume, or turned into a preliminary injunction, in which case they would be prohibited indefinitely. But the wheels of justice grind slowly, and neither is likely to happen any time soon.

Of course, folks in the know were ripping DVDs before RealDVD came out last fall and have gone on ripping them--or downloading the results of others' ripping efforts on BitTorrent--since the sale of RealDVD was barred. The advantages of RealDVD were simplicity and the promise of legality. I'd love to see it back on the market, but I'm not holding my breath.