By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 3:09 pm
For years, the high-end consumer-electronics device known as Kaleidescape has provided good reason to wish you were filthy rich. Starting at around $8,000 but mostly going way, way up from there, the systems let you store DVDs to hard disks and browse and watch them from multiple TVs around your house. But the DVD-copying aspect–which can be approximated with free software and a cheap network drive–was only part of the product’s appeal. What really made it interesting was the software, which sported one of the slickest, most thoughtful user interfaces this side of Cupertino. It’s like what Apple TV might be on an unlimited budget, if it let you enjoy the DVD movies you’d already bought rather than making you pay to download them again.
Now Kaleidescape has suffered a court defeat to Hollywood, just a day after RealDVD (which is a sort of poor man’s Kaleidescape in software form) did. Two years ago, Kaleidescape won a rare victory relating to DVD-copying in the digital age, but a California state appellate judge has overturned that decision. As I understand it, the Kaleidescape case doesn’t involve questions of fair use but whether Kaleidescape abused the license it obtained from the DVD Copy Control Association for CSS, the encryption standard used to lock up DVDs. But I’d still rather see products like RealDVD and Kaleidescape win in court than lose. The ruling won’t force Kaleidescape to pull products off the market immediately, and could be overturned.
Greg Sandoval’s piece on Kaleidescape and RealDVD at Cnet has one shred of sort-of-good news: Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, who ruled in the RealDVD case, said that she wasn’t saying that consumers definitely don’t have the right to back up their DVDs under certain circumstances. But here’s a bit of big-picture optimism: The Betamax case which established fair-use ground rules for copied movies in the first place got all the way to the Supreme Court before Sony (and, indirectly, consumers) scored definitive victory over the studios. Let’s hope that both Kaleidescape and Real have plenty of fight left in them.