RealNetworks, owner of the Rhapsody online music service, can't sell a program that copies DVDs to computer hard disks because it may violate copyright laws, a federal judge said.

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RealNetworks, owner of the Rhapsody online music service, can’t sell a program that copies DVDs to computer hard disks because it may violate copyright laws, a federal judge said.

Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and other Hollywood studios represented by the Motion Picture Association of America contend the company’s RealDVD program will facilitate piracy. The industry group Tuesday persuaded U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel to keep in place an Oct. 4 temporary restraining order barring sales of the product. RealNetworks, based in Seattle, says RealDVD is legal.

Patel said she will appoint a technical expert and hold a hearing after Nov. 17 about how the product works because the opposing sides disagree about whether the copying technology violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The 1998 federal law bans technologies or devices that circumvent controls over access to copyright material.

“I’m not satisfied that in fact this technology is not in violation of the DCMA,” Patel said at a hearing in San Francisco. “The harm is far less to RealNetworks than it would be for who knows how many copies being made.”

RealDVD enables DVD owners to copy a movie only to their computer hard drives. The company said in a court filing yesterday that an order blocking sales before the holiday buying season will “devastate Real’s ability to ever launch RealDVD successfully.”

RealNetworks had planned to release RealDVD, which costs about $50, as it faces slowing sales growth. In July, the company lowered its revenue and profit forecasts for 2008, after reporting its first quarterly loss in more than three years.

Tiffany Dunning, a company spokeswoman, didn’t respond to messages left after business hours.

“We are gratified that the court recognized the harm of RealDVD to the motion-picture industry and the strength of our arguments that the product circumvents the copyright protection built into DVDs,” said Seth Oster, a spokesman for the MPAA.