Real Networks Fights Back Against DRM

DRM: it stands for “digital rights management” but many believe that it’s just an indirect way of saying “copy protection“. Publishers of all sorts of copyrighted material — including music and movies — have tried to find ways to prevent people from making illegal copies of their products. The major Hollywood movie studios created the DVD Copy Control Association (CCA) to provide a central organization to control their use of copy protection on DVDs and other forms of movie distribution. This protection is what can prevent the use of an HDMI cable to make a digital-to-digital recording of a published DVD.

Real Networks created RealDVD software that circumvents these protections, and allows DVD owners to make backup copies of their discs. The making of backups is permitted under copyright law, but the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to “reverse engineer” or otherwise develop technology that overcomes copy protection. So the DVD CCS and Hollywood studios have sued Real Networks to prevent the sale of the RealDVD software.

Now Real Networks is fighting back, however, and their current tactic may make the studios regret that they ever started down this path. In their motion filed earlier this week, Real Networks made the following argument:

Through their interpretation of the CSS License Agreement, the Studio Defendants and the DVD CCA agreed, from the outset, that the Agreement would preclude all copying, regardless of whether that copying could otherwise be licensed individually by a given Studio or was lawful without a license under the fair use doctrine. In so doing, they […] entered into an agreement that necessarily prevents competition from third parties like RealNetworks.

In other words, the studios set up a structure that prevented an individual studio from negotiating a separate deal with a third party. Real Networks argues that this is in violation of anti-trust statutes.

From a layperson’s perspective, it would appear that Real Networks has a plausible case, which could rapidly turn the tables on the DVD CCA and the studios. The personal computer software industry discovered long ago that copy protection features are generally not worth the effort, and the music industry is rapidly moving in that direction as well. It looks as though Real Networks may have found the weakness in the movie industry’s fortifications, and copy protection on movies may soon come tumbling down as well.