Walt Disney, Warners, Fox, Universal, Paramount and are ganging up to sue a Seattle based company, RealNetworks Inc., over a new software program, called RealDVD, which allows consumers to copy DVDs onto computers.
RealNetworks filed its own suit against the studios in federal court in San Francisco, accusing the studios of continuing an entertainment-industry pattern of trying to crush technologies that give consumers flexibility in how they enjoy music, video and other media.
RealNetworks claims that it wanted to protect consumers’ “fair-use rights” to make copies of their own purchased DVDs. “Our argument for the studios has been embrace technology — it can help you create new business opportunities,” said Rob Glaser, CEO of RealNetworks.
A useful starting point when looking at the legal issues is the 1984 ‘Sony’ or Betamax’ case where the US Supreme Court decided whether or not the Betamax video machine was an illegal instrument that contributed to copyright infringement. In Sony –v- Universal City Studios 104 US 774 (1984). The Court had to determine the legality of the Betamax machine which could both play pre-recorded films and videos legally but also could be used record copyright material illegally. On a 5-4 vote, the court held that the machine was not illegal. In the UK, in CBS Songs –v- Amstrad (1988) RPC 567; the House of Lords found that there was no infringement in marketing a twin cassette deck which could be used for copying music cassettes without permission.
Whilst it is clear that the copying of copyright material without permission is an infringement in almost all jurisdictions, the provision of a service or equipment to facilitate such copying, where that service or equipment has other legitimate uses, is generally not an infringement or illegal.