In an attempt to help the poor souls who were stuck with RealPlayer, a media player that was often criticized for being a bloatware with unwanted advertisements and “features” (though recent versions were said to be much cleaner), Dutch webmaster Hilbrand Edskes found himself in a legal battle with RealNetworks that will potentially turn his life upside down.
All he did was linking to Real Alternative on his website, CodecPack.nl. Real Alternative, as its name suggests, is an alternative to RealPlayer, a barebone player that works well with Real’s proprietary codec minus the “bloatedness.”
On February 10, 2010, Edskes was greeted by six law enforcement officers. They took away his computer equipment and demanded him to remove the link to Real Alternative on his website.
The 26-year-old man who once had a dream to buy his own house, said he complied with the request, but RealNetworks disputed it and went ahead with a lawsuit.
By checking the site’s backup, Edskes’s host provider confirmed that the link was indeed removed, but RealNetworks alleged that the link was still displayed on the website for the next 43 days — in which if true, will set Edskes back as much as €210,000 in fines.
To date, Edskes had racked up €66,000 in legal fees, and had to depend on loans from his family just to survive. That is just the beginning, as he would have to bear RealNetwork’s legal fees too if he lose the case.
RealNetwork’s decision to sue a defenseless Dutch webmaster for linking to Real Alternative among other freewares on his website is dumbfounding on many grounds. Real Alternative may be in a gray area in terms of legality, but why sue someone who merely links to it rather than the developer itself?
Even if the decision maker in RealNetworks couldn’t understand the difference between merely linking and actually hosting the software, why did they choose to go after a young webmaster in The Netherlands instead of, say, CNET in the U.S.?
If RealNetworks is committed to halt the distribution of Real Alternative on the web, it could make more impact by going after larger sites. CNET had distributed over half a million copies of Real Alternative to date, and it’s hosting the software itself, unlike Edskes who merely links to it.