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Is DVD Ripping Legal?


Editor’s Note: At press time,RealNetworks failed to convince a district judge to lift its restraining order and allow it to start selling RealDVD again until the judge learned from experts how the software functions. That means that RealDVD is unlikely to reappear in the marketplace until some time this month and perhaps longer.

September 30, 2008 may be remembered as a watershed day in our industry. Real-Networks, a company known for its “fair use” software products,

ZvBox allows you to take the VGA signal from an XP- or Vista-based computer and distribute it on the coaxial cabling plant within the home to any QAM-enabled TV in the house. released an application that the CI industry has been waiting a long time for: the ability to “legally” rip CSS copy-protected DVDs onto hard drives in a Windows Vista or XP computer.

You’ll note that the terms “fair use” and “legally” are in quotes in the opening paragraph, because as soon as RealNetworks launched its software, the company filed a pre-emptive suit in a Northern California court against the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) defending its right to “protect consumers’ fair-use rights with Real-DVD.” In response, the MPAA filed suit contending that the RealDVD software violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by illegally bypassing copyright protection to protect DVDs against illegal duplication, theft, and copyright infringement. “RealNetworks’ RealDVD should be called Steal DVD,” said Greg Goeckner, executive vice president and general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America in an MPAA statement.

This case may not be resolved until it goes all the way to the Supreme Court. There is a “fair use” precedent for this case that dates back to 1976 when Universal and Disney sued Sony over the Betamax video recorder on whether videotaping of a broadcast TV show qualified as fair use of TV content. Chris Renk, an attorney with Chicago-based firm Banner and Witcoff representing Real Networks, believes that there is merit in his client’s claim that the program’s intended use falls under “fair use” rules. Renk cited a previous case against CI industry manufacturer, Kaleidescape, that was shot down in court a couple of years ago.

What makes RealDVD even more of an engaging solution for the custom electronics integrator is that there is now a product that allow us to take the content of any Windows Vista or XP computer in the home and modulate that signal up to 720p resolution to any cable-based QAM-enabled HDTV in the home. The custom integrator can now set up a Vista-based computer with several large terabyte drives (that could store hundreds of DVD movies) and “localcast” that content to any QAM-enabled HDTV in the client’s home. The installer could then program the client’s universal remote to easily tune to their own “movie channel” to watch their personal movie library with all of the software features that RealDVD supports.

Announced at CEDIA this fall and now available on their website and a number of online retailers, a new company called ZeeVee Inc., headquartered in Littleton, Massachusetts ( is selling a ZvBox kit for $499 that will provide the “localcasting” solution I just described.ZvBox allows you to take the VGA signal from an XP- or Vista-based computer anddistribute it on the coaxial cabling plant within the home to any QAM-enabled TV in the house. To control this PC, ZvBoxhas an RF handheld remote that

Gordon van Zuiden ([email protected]) is president of cyberManor, in Los Gatos, California. communicatesto the PC via an RF to USB connector and allows you to have full control of the remote PC from a distant room.

So here we stand. Kaleidescape won round one in the battle for the end-user to have a digitally stored copy of the DVDs that they own, and Real Networksis already engaged in round two of this battle.How this ends up will be for the courts to decide. In the interest of fair use and the health of our industry I hope that the momentum has now shiftedin favor of the consumer. It happened before when the VCR was introduced and legalized, and we can only hope that a decision in favor of the consumer’s digital rights will prevail. If not, the outcome of this litigation may be moot in the near future as the industry continues to migrate toward a downloadable movie model for rent or purchase; the practice of ripping DVDs may become as outdated as the vinyl record player.