The movie industry has finally responded to accusations that it filed suit to stop sales of RealDVD software as a means of maintaining control over technology companies.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for the rights of Internet users, last week called the lawsuit filed by the major movie studios against RealNetworks, the maker of the DVD-ripping software, an attempt at "controlling innovation."
On Monday, the Motion Picture Association of America responded in an open letter to the EFF titled: "Hollywood isn't Living in the Past, EFF Shouldn't Either." In the letter provided to CNET News, the MPAA calls EFF's claims "disingenuous and wrongheaded." The MPAA says RealDVD, which enables users to copy the contents on a DVD and save the digital file on a hard drive, is a pirate tool.
"Forgive us if we take offense when the EFF and other activist organizations that continually take the side of those who profit from widespread copyright infringement attack our industry," wrote Jim Williams, the MPAA's chief technology officer. "It's a desperate throw-back to the Napster days of old when (EFF would) pull out this tired and weathered playbook. It's not 2001 anymore. We've moved on. So should you."
The studios accused RealNetworks in their copyright suit of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and breaching its contract with the DVD Copy Control Association, the group that oversees the licenses that manufacturers need to build DVD players. Two weeks ago, Hollywood told U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel that RealDVD could cost the film industry billions and she agreed to force the software off the market until at least November 17.
Not only does the MPAA strongly deny being against innovation, but Williams wrote that Hollywood now works closely with the tech sector to deliver digital content to consumers.
"Movie makers and the technology community are working together to deliver to consumers a variety of legal choices," Williams wrote. "To the surprise of some skeptical Internet watchers, Hulu, the NewsCorp and NBC Universal backed video streaming site, has been both a popular and critical success. And, beyond what you can get through cable and satellite on-demand services, thousands of movies are now available for instant rental, download or ad-supported streaming via sites such as Apple's iTunes, Amazon, and NetFlix.
"The days of Hollywood being from Mars and Silicon Valley being from Venus are simply over," Williams wrote.
The EFF said in its initial letter that Hollywood's legal attack on RealDVD doesn't make any sense when the Internet is packed with similar (and better) DVD-copying software. But a film-industry source notes that RealDVD is very different. RealNetworks is a mainstream company and has the money to promote the software. This could lead consumers to believing that copying movies is always legal.
EFF and RealNetworks say copying is legal if the consumer owns the movies. The MPAA says it is absolutely illegal to copy rented films--and that's what the studios hope to prevent.
The other difference is that RealNetworks is a publicly traded U.S. company. Many other providers of ripping software are small and reside overseas and are beyond the reach of this country's system of justice, the source said.
Williams' letter in its entirety:
Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published an article entitled, "Why Hollywood Hates RealDVD," whose basic claim is that Hollywood is anti-technology and innovation. It is disingenuous and wrongheaded to equate Hollywood's efforts to prevent piracy with being against innovation. The market is full of high-tech, legal examples of Hollywood and the technology industry partnering to bring movies and television to consumers in new innovative ways.
When companies go beyond the bounds of the lawful marketplace and profit from pilfering copyrighted content, the result is damage to those who make movies, high-tech companies that are part of the legitimate ecosystem of movie distribution, and ultimately to consumers. The major film studios have made every effort to focus on a strategy that takes advantage of the new avenues offered by the Internet and innovative consumer electronics. They've done this because they know that in an age of immediacy and ubiquity of content, they have to do everything possible to provide consumers with as much choice and convenience as possible. The studios have worked hard to enable legitimate business models that are more compelling to movie fans than shady, virus-laden tools that distribute pirated films.
The results? Consumers now have a multitude of ways to enjoy great video content. To the surprise of some skeptical Internet watchers, Hulu, the NewsCorp and NBC Universal backed video streaming site, has been both a popular and critical success. And, beyond what you can get through cable and satellite on-demand services, thousands of movies are now available for instant rental, download or ad-supported streaming via sites such as Apple's iTunes, Amazon, and NetFlix. In fact, there are more than 275 legal Web sites worldwide that provide high quality, digital content to consumers.
And those are just some of the more high-profile, well-known collaborations that the studios have made in the Internet arena. Every day, in efforts to provide consumers with even more and better ways to enjoy content, the film studios are working hand and hand with some of the biggest names in technology and also some of the smallest start-ups that haven't even publicly launched yet.
The days of Hollywood being from Mars and Silicon Valley being from Venus are simply over. So forgive us if we take offense when the EFF and other activist organizations that continually take the side of those who profit from widespread copyright infringement attack our industry as one that stifles innovation. It's a desperate throw-back to the Napster days of old when they pull out this tired and weathered playbook. It's not 2001 anymore. We've moved on. So should you. Isn't it also just a little insincere to cast the studios as "anti-innovation" simply because they have filed a lawsuit against a technology company for introducing a product to market that effectively creates a profit mechanism for themselves built on the back of our members' copyrighted content?
Movie makers and the technology community are working together to deliver to consumers a variety of legal choices for enjoying movies in innovative and flexible ways. Whether it's from downloading and streaming films legally, renting them online for one-time viewing or buying a DVD with a bonus digital copy, important progress is being made that allows consumers to enjoy movies legally in new and exciting ways. Our goal is to continue to increase these offerings as new legal technologies become available. It is important to note, however, that these innovations are only possible because the studios are able to protect their content--content protection is essential to the industry's ability to provide this vast array of options.
The industry is moving fast on these initiatives because we realize that media consumption is changing rapidly, and we must stay ahead of these significant shifts. To do so means that the movie industry has to be successful at every step of the distribution chain--from movie theaters to DVDs to downloads.
And, this success generates the profits that fund the creation of movies that consumers want (and that cost $100 million to make and market, on average). Which, in turn, go to real jobs, real tax revenues, and real economic growth in uncertain economic times. Yet, without the protection of intellectual property, the economic calculus would quickly begin to work against the film companies and technology firms working to provide content to consumers.
It is disappointing that in 2008, the studios are still fending off the tired old "Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley" stories. While others wish to hold on to the nostalgia of that fading era, the motion picture and technology industries are collaborating to bring consumers both the content and the products they want in a legal and therefore sustainable manner.