Have you ever ripped a commercial DVD to your PC? If so, you’ve probably used a product like Handbrake whose legality is at best sketchy, since it breaks copy protection and therefore violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Chances of the copyright police breaking down your door and hauling you away are slim. But starting later this month, you might be able to copy all the DVDs you want without fear of legal consequences.
The New York Times is reporting that Real Networks will announce RealDVD tomorrow at the DEMO conference in San Francisco. (Which is where I am–I’ll be in the audience when it does.) Real is presumably betting that it’s figured out a way to make a DVD copying program that won’t be sued into oblivion in a nanosecond. And even if they bet wrong, it’s going to be fascinating to watch it come to market.
RealDVD doesn’t sound like total DVD-copying nirvana: It won’t produce DRM-free copies of DVDs that you can copy at will, download to your iPod, or upload to BitTorrent, according to the Times. Rather, its copies will retain copy protection; you can play them on only up to five PCs, and only if you’ve paid for the $30 software on each of those machines. That’s a significant set of limitations, but it would still allow you to store a library of movies on your hard drive for playback. (I’m not sure offhand whether you’d be able to keep them on a networked hard drive for playback via multiple computers around the house, but I sure hope so–it would be nifty.)
The Times quotes a technology exec at a studio who sounds skeptical about RealDVD, which isn’t surprising; it’s hard to imagine anyone in Hollywood speaking positively about it, at least for the record. But the real question isn’t whether Hollywood is thrilled with the idea of RealDVD–it’s whether it’s legal. If it is, this is great news, and other companies will presumably jump into the market with similar products once Real has tested the legal waters.
I’m looking forward to learning more at DEMO tomorrow, and even more so to trying RealDVD once I can get my hands on it. Keep your fingers crossed: If it is indeed a real way to put DVDs on your PC easily and legally, it’ll be very good news for consumers with DVD collections that they don’t want to be forced to repuchase as digital downloads…