An entertaining read of what I am sure is going to be a continuing series of challenges: A Ruling May Pave the Way for Broader Use of DVR
RECORDING TV shows — and skipping the commercials that come with them — may become more pervasive in the wake of a new court ruling that blesses a new networked form of digital video recorder.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said Monday that the so-called network DVR, which records programs on a faraway computer rather than on the device itself, does not violate copyright law.
The opinion: The Cartoon Network LP, LLLP v. CSC Holdings, Inc.
Defendant-Appellant Cablevision Systems Corporation (“Cablevision”) wants to market a new “Remote Storage” Digital Video Recorder system (“RS-DVR”), using a technology akin to both traditional, set-top digital video recorders, like TiVo (“DVRs”), and the video-on-demand (“VOD”) services provided by many cable companies. Plaintiffs-Appellees produce copyrighted movies and television programs that they provide to Cablevision pursuant to numerous licensing agreements. They contend that Cablevision, through the operation of its RS-DVR system as proposed, would directly infringe their copyrights both by making unauthorized reproductions, and by engaging in public performances, of their copyrighted works. The material facts are not in dispute. Because we conclude that Cablevision would not directly infringe plaintiffs’ rights under the Copyright Act by offering its RS-DVR system to consumers, we reverse the district court’s award of summary judgment to plaintiffs, and we vacate its injunction against Cablevision.
[...] In most copyright disputes, the allegedly infringing act and the identity of the infringer are never in doubt. These cases turn on whether the conduct in question does, in fact, infringe the plaintiff’s copyright. In this case, however, the core of the dispute is over the authorship of the infringing conduct. After an RS-DVR subscriber selects a program to record, and that program airs, a copy of the program–a copyrighted work–resides on the hard disks of Cablevision’s Arroyo Server, its creation unauthorized by the copyright holder. The question is who made this copy. If it is Cablevision, plaintiffs’ theory of direct infringement succeeds; if it is the customer, plaintiffs’ theory fails because Cablevision would then face, at most, secondary liability, a theory of liability expressly disavowed by plaintiffs.
Few cases examine the line between direct and contributory liability. [...]
[...] We do not believe that an RS-DVR customer is sufficiently distinguishable from a VCR user to impose liability as a direct infringer on a different party for copies that are made automatically upon that customer’s command.
[...] For these reasons, we are not inclined to say that Cablevision, rather than the user, “does” the copying produced by the RS-DVR system. As a result, we find that the district court erred in concluding that Cablevision, rather than its RS-DVR customers, makes the copies carried out by the RS-DVR system.
[...] From the foregoing, it is evident that the transmit clause directs us to examine who precisely is “capable of receiving” a particular transmission of a performance. Cablevision argues that, because each RS-DVR transmission is made using a single unique copy of a work, made by an individual subscriber, one that can be decoded exclusively by that subscriber’s cable box, only one subscriber is capable of receiving any given RS-DVR transmission. This argument accords with the language of the transmit clause, which, as described above, directs us to consider the potential audience of a given transmission. We are unpersuaded by the district court’s reasoning and the plaintiffs’ arguments that we should consider a larger potential audience in determining whether a transmission is “to the public.”
[...] [N]one of the arguments advanced by plaintiffs or the district court alters our conclusion that, under the transmit clause, we must examine the potential audience of a given transmission by an alleged infringer to determine whether that transmission is “to the public.” And because the RS-DVR system, as designed, only makes transmissions to one subscriber using a copy made by that subscriber, we believe that the universe of people capable of receiving an RS-DVR transmission is the single subscriber whose self-made copy is used to create that transmission.