Real Networks has received quite a bit of attention thanks to the launch of its Real DVD software, designed to allow people to copy their DVDs to their hard drives for later playback. (Why is that a big deal? Because Hollywood DVDs are encrypted with CSS, and if you decrypt them without permission, the motion picture industry's lawyers may come a-callin'.)

Today there are two approaches for those who want to make and distribute DVD copying tools. First, you can just build a DVD decryptor, the U.S. court cases that have held that the distribution of those products violates the DMCA notwithstanding. Despite those legal precedents, there is no shortage of free, easy-to-use tools that take this approach, including Handbrake (Win/Mac/Lin), DVD Shrink (Win), or MacTheRipper (Mac). (The motion picture studios argue that anyone who uses these tools violates the DMCA, as well.)

The other approach is the one pioneered by Kaleidescape: sign licenses with the DVD-CCA (the cartel that controls the CSS encryption technology), build a licensed player, make bit-for-bit copies of encrypted files from DVD (aka "DVD archiving" as opposed to "DVD ripping"), and play back those files in the licensed player. DVD-CCA subsequently sued Kaleidescape claiming that the license requires that the original DVD be physically present in the device upon playback, but Kaleidescape prevailed. The case is currently on appeal (DVD-CCA filed its opening brief in December 2007).

Real has chosen to follow in Kaleidescape's footsteps. Apparently, it is not alone CEPro has an informative article summarizing all the DVD media server solutions for the home theater market that were announced at the recent CEDIA conference. Looks like Hollywood's iron-fisted grip of DVDs is slipping a little every day.

UPDATE: CEPro has followed up with an article that gathers all the FAQ answers offered by makers of DVD copying/server solutions (Kaleidescape, Real, Escient, ReQuest, Xperinet, Axonix, Fuze Media) to the question "how is this legal?"