RealNetworks Stumbles Into Court, This Box Hangs in the BalanceS

RealNetworks' courtroom feud with the MPAA is now under way, and as predicted, the company doesn't really give a mouse's ass about RealDVD. It's Facet, RealNetworks' archiving DVD player, that everyone's all worked up about.

After getting cornered with a few leading questions about whether or not RealDVD software is capable of copying rented DVDs (err, yes?), RealNetworks and the MPAA directed the discussion towards the company's plans for Facet, a $300 DVD-ripping player inspired by the massively expensive Kaleidoscape boxes of yore. Real CEO Rob Glaser even went so far as to lay out what's really at stake in this case:

If we're enjoined (from selling RealDVD), it would have very dire consequences frankly for us to ever be in this business.

And this is just a preliminary hearing. Essentially, if the court rules against RealDVD, then Facet—and its software, which would presumably be licensed to other DVD player manufacturers—would be dead in the water. Moreover, the precedent could make any DVD backup solution much more difficult to bring to market. Shitty, all around.

But the more I think about it, the less this strategy makes sense. Testing the waters with a low-stakes product isn't a bad idea in itself, but RealDVD is the wrong low-stakes product for the job. Real claims that Facet copies DVDs to an internal HDD, but offers absolutely no means by which these files could be shared—they're DRMed, disconnected from the outside world a locked in an actual box. RealDVD, on the other hand, copies films to your PC's drive and wraps them in iTunes-style DRM, which allows playback on up to five machines. That opens opens a piracy angle for the MPAA—one that could conceivably swing the case in their favor, killing RealDVD and precluding production of Facet for reasons that don't even apply to it. [CNETPhoto courtesy of Greg Sandoval/CNET]