Often, the court that hears your case can determine whether you win or lose. RealNetworks just improved its chances in a lawsuit against Hollywood studios over its recently launched RealDVD software. The software lets you rip DVDs to your computer so you can play movies from your hard drive or turn your PC into a digital media server.
The suit was originally going to be heard in the Central District Court of California (Los Angeles), but the judge there ruled that the case be moved to the Northern District (Silicon Valley). Why? Because RealNetworks beat the studios to the punch by about an hour and 15 minutes in filing essentially the same lawsuit on the morning of September 30 against Viacom and the DVD Copy Control Association in a Northern District Court. (The suit in Los Angeles was filed by Universal City Studios, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Sony Pictures Television, Columbia Pictures Industries, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Disney Enterprises, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment). By filing preemptively, RealNetworks now has a chance of drawing a judge more sympathetic to the arguments of technology lawyers than Hollywood lawyers.
The product itself is not likely to become a blockbuster, but it does address a certain niche. (Read our review). Most people still don’t have enough spare hard drive space to store a complete library of DVDs on their PCs, but they will soon. And it comes complete with its own flavor of DRM. Whatever you think of the product, there is a strong argument to be made that consumers should be able to convert DVDs into digital copies just as they can do the same with CDs of music. That is the issue at stake in this lawsuit.
What’s clear from the ruling (embedded below), is that RealNetworks knew that a lawsuit was coming from the studios, but decided to launch its product anyway. Excerpt:
RealNetworks originally planned to release RealDVD on September 8, 2008, but delayed the release at Plaintiffs’ request. On September 6, 2008, Plaintiffs and RealNetworks entered into a “standstill agreement” under which all parties agreed to refrain from bringing suit to facilitate settlement discussions. According to Plaintiffs, RealNetworks terminated the standstill agreement on September 22, 2008, which under the terms of the agreement meant the parties could bring suit beginning September 30, 2008. Plaintiffs then asked RealNetworks to delay its release of RealDVD until late October so they could seek injunctive relief, and informed RealNetworks that they intended to file suit in Los Angeles on September 30, 2008. RealNetworks refused to delay the launch.
On September 30, 2008, at 9:05 a.m. in the Northern District of California, RealNetworks
filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment against Plaintiffs, DVD CCA, and Viacom, Inc.,
that RealDVD does not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) or the CSS License
Agreement. (08-04548, Docket No. 1.) At 10:21 a.m., Plaintiffs filed their Application in the
Central District of California.
The early bird gets the worm.
Update: RealDVD is down. A message on its site states:
Due to recent legal action taken by the Hollywood movie studios against us, RealDVD is temporarily unavailable. Rest assured, we will continue to work diligently to provide you with software that allows you to make a legal copy of your DVDs for your own use.