RealNetworks Inc. plans to begin selling software that lets people copy DVDs to their PCs, which might be convenient for on-the-go movie buffs but could incite some wrath in Hollywood.
Unlike various software programs that can be used for illicit disc copying, the new RealDVD software will copy DVDs to computers or portable hard drives without taking off or altering the "content scrambling system," or CSS, encryption that is included on commercial DVDs.
The software will create a full copy of a DVD in about 10 to 40 minutes, RealNetworks said, and copies saved on portable hard drives will be playable on up to five computers per user. RealNetworks Chief Executive Rob Glaser thinks the product will have wide appeal, from business travelers to families wanting backup discs in case of scratches.
Initially, the software was to be rolled out Monday, but Glaser said the company decided to work on it longer. Instead, RealDVD will be available by the end of the month for $30, he said. Consumers who want to use the product on other computers can buy up to four additional software licenses for $20 each.
Glaser said RealNetworks licensed the encryption software for the product from the DVD Copy Control Association, which also licenses to the manufacturers of DVD players. Greg Larsen, a spokesman for the association, had no comment.
But despite the inclusion of encryption, the product may be viewed negatively by movie studios, which have traditionally been strict on content protection issues like their counterparts in the music industry.
Charles Van Horn, president of the Content Delivery and Storage Association, a trade group that represents some entertainment companies, expects some kind of industry response. He noted that consumers could still use the software to copy things that they don't really own.
"I don't see how they're going to stop the consumer from making a copy of something they borrowed for free from a friend or a library, or rented from Netflix or Blockbuster or anywhere else," he said.
Glaser concedes that is possible, but said that RealDVD does remind users when they save content that they should save only DVDs that belong to them.
"If you want to steal, we remind you what the rules are and we discourage you from doing it, but we're not your nanny," he said.
Analysts said maintaining the CSS encryption may be enough to keep studios happy. But Piper Jaffray analyst Michael J. Olson said RealNetworks still "crossed a line" that nobody has successfully crossed in legally copying DVDs.
"It wouldn't surprise me if some of the studios have something more to say about this, or something to discuss with Real about this," Olson said.
Glaser said RealNetworks is confident that its product is on the right side of the law because of a 2007 victory by media streaming company Kaleidescape Inc. in a lawsuit against the DVD association. The association has appealed. Glaser also said RealNetworks has had "constructive" talks with entertainment studios about its product.