Media Download in RealPlayer v11 – Horrible or Great?

I recently discovered that RealPlayer v11 for Windows from RealNetworks allows you to capture and download video streams from sites like YouTube. It also captures audio only files. I haven’t looked into how they do it or where the stream is captured, however my computer has no sound card (I have USB connected speakers) which other tools have used to capture audio. Often RealPlayer will discover a piece of media on a website, and ask if you want to download it, by showing an icon. Sometimes it doesn’t discover the media but you can usually download it by right-clicking on the media link and instructing RealPlayer to grab it.

My immediate reaction was “wow, how useful – now I can download most anything to my Laptop and Zune for on-the-go”.

But I pretty soon started thinking about the media creators and how much harder it got for them to protect their content against how they wish to share it. It has been a common belief that anything that was streamed (i.e. not available for download as a file) was safe with the source provider. While that has never been completely true it suddenly got a lot easier to download the content locally. If I was living off selling online video or audio I would be quite concerned, some are probably even furious.

Another flipside is that some media will never be shared when the authors learn that they cannot regulate its use. I am thinking about some spoof videos my previous employer made. The videos were fun, but since the distribution rights were with another production company they were only available for a short time. The question is if they had ever been shared at all if it was this easy to capture them.

What do you think? Good or bad? The best thing since sliced bread or the doom for online video streaming?