Real launches DVD ripper — but why?

Brad Stone over at The New York Times has a story about how Real Networks — which owns the Rhapsody music service, but is probably best known for distributing one of the most irritating media players ever — is launching DVD-copying software. It will allow users to make a copy of a movie, along with all of the features and artwork, but they will only be allowed to play the movie on the computer that runs the software. It also can’t be burned to a DVD and played in a DVD player, and in order to play it on another PC, users will have to pay $20 to buy another copy of the software for each device they want to play it on.

This is the kind of product announcement that makes you shake your head and wonder what the hell people at companies like Real are thinking. Not only is the product likely going to make Real a target for legal action by the movie industry, but as more than one commenter at Slashdot, Digg and other technology sites and forums have pointed out, copying DVDs isn’t exactly rocket surgery. There are dozens of easy-to-use programs such as DVD Decrypter, Handbrake (for Macs) and others that can accomplish the same thing, and also produce files that can be watched anywhere, burned, shared and so on.

This would be a dumb move for just about any company to make, but it’s even more head-scratching coming from Real Networks, a company that is still reviled by many because of its RealMedia software, which pretty much takes over your computer and installs a bunch of things you don’t want, all of which use up resources and generally make your life miserable. Here’s a selection of comments from the Slashdot thread and the Digg thread that say it better than I ever could:

“When’s the last time Real mattered? They chose the wrong path a long, long time ago and something as stupid as an automatic DRM inserter doesn’t get them headed in the right direction. This company seems to have no clue about the realities of digital content use and management.” (Slashdot)

“This is a joke?… right?” (Digg)

“And, because it’s RealNetworks, it will also install fifteen other programs that stay resident via a special rootkit, back up your registry to their servers, reassign all your file association to their software, and make you whisper “I am Real’s bitch” into your microphone every time you start Windows.” (Digg)

and another good point:

“They’re charging $20 a piece to transfer to up to 5 computers since you have to get the software for each computer. That’s just as expensive as just buying a legit copy of the dvd. What’s the point?” (Digg)

The New York Times story has a great quote from a media-industry executive, who says: “When so much of their success depends on having reasonable relationships with content owners, you wonder why they would be quite so bold in doing this, unless they are desperate.” Desperate indeed. Perhaps Real is hoping to get sued, so the publicity will remind people that it still exists.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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