Updated at 8:50 a.m. to include disclosure by National Consumers League that RealNetworks helped finance survey. More details at bottom of the story.
It's not just the Internet's so-called freetards who are criticizing the movie industry for stating last week that consumers are not within their rights to make backup copies of legally purchased DVDs.
Count the National Consumers League, a 100-year-old consumer watchdog group, to be among those who argue the Motion Picture Association of America is much too inflexible when it comes to blocking DVD buyers from backing up their film discs.
The issue of whether consumers have the right to make copies is at the heart of a legal dispute between RealNetworks and the MPAA. Last fall, Real attempted to distribute RealDVD, a software that enables people to make digital copies of their movie discs and store them on hard drives. The MPAA filed a lawsuit accusing Real of violating copyright law and breach of contract. During a hearing on Friday, MPAA lawyers made it very clear what they think the rights of consumers are when it comes to copying.
"The studios have the right to be compensated for additional copies made of their copyrighted materials," Bart Williams, an attorney representing the MPAA, told U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel. "That's the whole basis of copyright."
For consumers who buy a DVD version of a film and then want a digital copy for their iPod, the studios apparently want to dip into their pockets a second time. After being informed of the MPAA's statements, Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League called the comments "troubling," and said Hollywood is out of step with consumer needs.
"I'm not in favor of copyright infringement," Greenberg told CNET on Sunday. "I want artists to get their due. But there is a level of resistance from the (film) industry that drives consumers crazy...we've been DRM'd to death."
MPAA representatives were not immediately available for comment. Last week, Greenberg wrote on the NCL blog that the group commissioned a survey--and helped finance it with money received from RealNetworks--that showed consumers overwhelmingly want to do more with the DVDs they purchase and all the respondents said they believed they should be allowed to back up their DVDs to preserve film collections.
"Consumers are currently limited by digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on most DVDs," Greenberg wrote in the blog. "Without illegal ripping software, we can't currently save the contents of most DVDs to our computers, whether for backup purposes or simply to access our DVD libraries without carrying around the actual discs."
According to Greenberg, the mean number of DVDs in consumers' collections was 77.8 discs.
"Some "expanded" editions of DVDs come with the ability to save an additional copy to a computer," Greenberg continued. "But these editions generally come with a higher price tag."
The expanded editions Greenberg referred to are the digital movie copies that some of the studios have begun packaging with discs but they general cost several dollars more.
Greenberg said this is the wrong time for the huge entertainment conglomerates to be sticking it to consumers.
"If our entertainment budgets are shrinking, it's more important than ever to get value from the DVDs we already own," Greenberg said. "The entertainment industry would be wise to pay attention to the attitudes and purchasing desires of the typical American consumer, who, according to our survey, is very interested in being able to back-up his or her collection."
Note: I learned about the NCL's position on DVD copying from Greenberg's blog post. Greenberg never disclosed in her blog post or in our conversations that RealNetworks helped finance the survey. A tip from a reader led me to ask an NCL spokesman on Monday morning about the relationship between NCL and Real. He informed me that a press release was issued last week disclosing the relationship.