Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

RealNetworks Still Barred From the DVD Backup Business. Why Does RealNetworks Want to Be in the DVD Backup Business?

piratesmoviejackrunningSo now that the RealNetworks attempt to get into the movie-copying business has been rebuffed by a federal court once again, I’ve got a question: Why, exactly does RealNetworks (RNWK) want to be in the movie-copying business?

To recap: Real wants to sell a $30 piece of software called RealDVD that lets you rip and store DVDs on your computer. Real’s software adds its own set of locks to the ripped file to prevent DVD owners from passing along their files to someone else, but that isn’t nearly enough to placate Hollywood.

Real and the studios have been in court since last fall, when U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued a restraining order preventing Real from selling the software. Yesterday, Patel (whom you may recall from the old Napster days, when she essentially shut that service down) turned the restraining order into an injunction, along with a sharply worded ruling that basically described Real as a group of willfully obtuse doofuses.

Now Hollywood is dancing, and Real says it needs to “determine our course of action.” I have a suggestion for Real: Move on.

I know there’s a legitimate use for software that lets you rip DVDs you own–and more importantly, software that lets you circumvent the locks the studios put on their discs. But why not let the many other smaller companies fighting this fight, fight this fight?

Best-case scenario is that you end up with software that’s useful for a relatively small group of people: The ones who buy DVDs and want to watch them multiple times. Worst case is the one you have now: An expensive legal battle and the prospect of a product you’ll never be able to sell.

I’ve been puzzling about Real’s plan for this software from the get-go. Why release a product that is destined for a court battle?

A few people familiar with the company’s thinking have tried to explain that this fits into CEO Rob Glaser’s vision for Real’s future, which involves creating software that maintains a connected home entertainment hub. But that seems like a roundabout way to get there.

I have another theory: Glaser is a smart, pugnacious guy with a fondness for big public fights.

He spent some time in the earlier part of this decade jousting with Steve Jobs about Apple’s (AAPL) walled-garden approach to iTunes music, and lost that one. But he did get Microsoft (MSFT) to hand over $760 million to settle an antitrust case in 2005, and he still has a chunk of that cash in the bank.

Or maybe there’s an entirely different impulse behind RealDVD. But whatever it is, I’d love to hear it. Here’s a clip of Rob Glaser explaining the software’s features, but not the rationale behind it, to BoomTown’s Kara Swisher:


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus