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RealNetworks to introduce a DVD burner to carry movies on the road

September 8, 2008 |  6:49 am

RealNetworks is expected to announce today a new software program that will for the first time give consumers a simple and legal way to copy movies and TV shows from DVDs onto their computers.

Called RealDVD, the software will target mobile professionals who want to take their video libraries on the road to watch on their laptops. Although the company says its product is for copying movies one owns, nothing stops someone from using it to copy rented DVDs. The $30 product will go on sale this month.

For the last decade, copying — also known as ripping — music from CDs to computer hard drives has become a regular habit for millions because the discs include no anticopying technology to protect copyrighted songs.

The lack of copyright protections has enabled people to transfer their songs to their iPods and make compilations of their favorite music, but it also made possible mass piracy of music via the Internet.

Making personal copies of a movie or TV show on a commercial DVD has proven elusive for ...

... most consumers because of the encryption software built into the disc.

There are software programs for copying commercial DVDs, but analysts say they are complicated to use, often break the DVD’s copyright protection and the sites that distribute them are frequently shut down by legal threats. 

Kaleidescape, which designs multiroom home entertainment systems, sells a server enabling people to copy and store DVDs then stream the movies across a home network. It was sued by the DVD Copy Control Assn., a consortium of movie studios, other content companies and consumer electronics companies that oversees the copy protection system used on DVDs.

Kaleidescape won the case in 2007. The DVD association is appealing.

That ruling cleared the way for RealDVD, says Eric Fox, a senior product manager at RealNetworks, a Seattle-based digital media company whose offerings include the subscription music service Rhapsody. RealDVD preserves the copyright protections on the DVD, Fox said, so the movies can’t be sent over the Internet.

“What people get worried about is shipping files,” Fox said. “That won’t work here.”

The DVD association and the Motion Picture Assn. of America declined to comment.

RealDVD, which will be available sometime this month for a 30-day free trial at RealDVD.com, was supposed to go on sale today but over the weekend the company decided to delay the launch.

Copying a DVD takes about 20 minutes, depending on the speed of a computer’s DVD drive.  It works only on Windows XP or Vista operating systems and only with regular DVDs, not high-definition ones such as Blu-ray. The movies cannot be transferred to portable devices such as iPods.

RealDVD could prompt a conversation about whether in the future, people who buy a movie once will be able to copy it and watch it on any screen they own, whether it is a cellphone, TV, computer or iPod, said James McQuivey, a media and technology analyst at Forrester Research.

“There is a logical need for this,” he said. “The question is whether the technology is far enough along where this makes a lot of sense.”

-- Michelle Quinn

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