A new (legal) way to rip DVDs

September 8, 2008, 1:31 PM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – For years tech-savvy movie buffs had to rely on illegal software to copy DVDs onto computer hard drives. Now a new program from Real Networks (RNWK) aims to make it easy — and legal — for anyone to rip their movie collection onto PCs.

Real, a Seattle-based digital media company, unveiled its DVD-copying software Monday at DEMO, a two-day technology conference in San Diego, Calif. The company says its new program, called RealDVD, doesn’t tamper with copy-protection technology and even prevents the illegal distribution of movies online. The $30 software will allow users to save one copy of each movie they own on a Windows-running computer. To transfer to other computers, customers will have to buy additional copies of the software.

Why would anyone pay $30 to back up their DVD collection on a PC? So they can watch flicks they already paid for on their laptop without the hassle of lugging around discs (this could be especially convenient for business travelers).

But while Real’s technology can copy the contents of a DVD without breaking its built-in copy-protection (meaning users who transfer a movie to their computer won’t then be able to share it online or distribute it), the company has no way of verifying that the DVDs you copy to your PC are yours. They could also be movies you rented from Blockbuster (BBI) or borrowed from a friend.

And that, in turn, could be problematic for Hollywood studios, which have fought hard for years to protect DVDs from piracy. For the most part, they’ve been successful – up until now, ripping a DVD has been a lot more complicated than copying a CD.