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January 23, 2009

Times Change, Some Industries Don’t Want To

-- by Dave Johnson

I wrote a post yesterday, MPAA vs RealDVD -- Why You Care, about the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)’s lawsuit to keep the product RealDVD off the market. This post is a continuation of that story.

The movie industry has had a good thing going. They put movies onto DVDs, and people have to have the actual DVD in order to watch the movie. There has even been a law passed called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that makes it illegal to sell hardware or software that lets people make copies of DVDs. This grants a monopoly on a revenue stream. As far as this works to promote creativity and innovation, and makes sure that people are paid for their work, this is a good and necessary use of government power. But keep in mind that this is a use of government power to direct a revenue stream to certain people, and therefore must be closely monitored because this creates an interest to prevent innovation as well as to promote it. It’s a good thing that MPAA naturally wants to keep going – a legal monopoly that forces people and companies to pay and pay and pay. Them.

Now a company has a product, RealDVD, that lets you copy your DVD onto your computer. Not to burn it and make copies for others, just for YOU to see it yourself. With products like this, if you get a scratch or lose your DVD, you can still watch it on your computer without having to buy the DVD again.

The MPAA has sued to keep the RealDVD technology from the public. They say RealDVD violates copyright law because it lets you see a movie that you purchased or rented even after it is transferred off of the DVD. This lawsuit denies the reality that today a movie is digitized. This is what a DVD really is, a place where the digitized file is kept. It can be on a USB drive or other device that can be copied, and the DMCA outlaws this. This digitization can bring tremendous flexibility to the user in how they can choose to see the movie. And it is the foundation for innovation that brings benefits to consumers. The MPAA lawsuit fights this innovation.Engadget says, “it's sadly clear to us that Hollywood's fight here is against consumers having flexibility with their media”.

If this is about stopping people from watching their movies on their computer without having to have the actual DVD present, then MPAA is trying to fit customers into their business model, not the other way around. This blocks innovation and is not filling the needs or solving the problems for customers -- this is making customers sacrifice to solve MPAA's problems. They are saying that because there might be a way that a product could be used to make illegitimate copies, customers should be assumed to be criminals and the innovation should be blocked.

But this suit may be be about the MPAA keeping control over innovation -- in other words it may be about MPAA abusing this law to press for license fees. This is not the purpose of copyright as spelled out in our Constitution. By holding up RealDVD MPAA may be trying to get the company to decide to just pay them a license fee to get them off their back. If that is the case this isn't an argument over the definition of piracy at all, it is an abuse of the law and court system. The purpose of copyright law is to promote innovation by making sure revenue flows to the innovator.

Posted by Dave Johnson at January 23, 2009 7:33 AM


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