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The Customer Isn’t Always Right

2 Jun, 2009 By: Stephanie Prange

I know it goes against the famous service aphorism, but in some instances the customer isn’t right.

Take the recent litigation (decision pending) involving RealNetworks’ RealDVD, the latest DVD-ripping software to come down the pike. This one has some safeguards against making multiple copies, but it’s really the same concept as 321 Studios’ software, which a few years ago got sued out of existence. RealDVD lets consumers make a digital copy from DVDs.

Many consumers get indignant about this subject, assuming they should be able to make digital copies of DVDs they own, just as they do CDs (and we all know how well that worked for the music business). A recent survey by the National Consumers League found nine out of 10 respondents wanted to be able to make a backup copy of their DVD collection.

“Win or lose, RealNetworks isn’t the studios’ enemy,” read a recent Los Angeles Times editorial. “Instead, it’s offering a way to enhance a format that’s losing its luster.”

Oh really? As I remember it, the studios put copy-protection on DVDs to prevent what happened to the CD business from happening to them. Far from enhancing the studios’ DVD business, making digital copies of DVDs is likely to hurt it, especially if consumers rent and rip DVDs from Netflix or their local video store.

When consumers bought many of the DVDs they own now, there was no implied right for them to make digital copies of them. In fact, it was quite the opposite. They could find copy-protection information and logos right on the boxes. Just because consumers want something for free doesn’t mean they should get it. And, in fact, if they really want digital copies, they can go to  iTunes or Amazon or get them from the studios that are now offering them as part of DVD and Blu-ray Disc packages.

Copyright is under attack by technology. Just as those who create desirable and useful technology should be paid for it, so should those who create content people want. Writer Nora Ephron, according to The Hollywood Reporter, offered a warning recently at a breakfast at Syracuse University in New York. “We’re in the last days of copyright, if you want to be grim about it,” she said.

Let’s hope she’s wrong. If she isn’t, we won’t have any more Nora Ephrons or Stephen Spielbergs or Joss Whedons. Talented people won’t be able to do what they do best because they can’t make a living. That would be a loss for everyone.

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