Appeals court reversal for TV networks


A federal appeals court in New York has reversed a lower court and given Cablevision a thumbs-up for deployment of its centrally networked DVR system. The appeals court ruled yesterday that a lower court judge misapplied copyright law in the lawsuit brought by the major TV networks and Hollywood studios to block the Cablevision DVR system.

"This is a tremendous victory for consumers, which will allow us to make DVRs available to many more people, faster and less expensively than would otherwise be possible," said Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge.

Twentieth Century Fox Films (owned by News Corporation), Paramount Pictures (Viacom), Disney Enterprises, CBS Broadcasting, NBC Studios (NBC Universal), ABC Television Network (Disney) and Universal Studios (NBC Universal) had sued Cablevision in 2006, seeking to block its plans to roll-out a test of its “Network DVR” system on Long Island. In March of 2007 US District Judge Denny Chin did just that, ruling that it was Cablevision doing the copying when it provided the service to subscribers. (3/26/07 TVBR #59)

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the networked DVR concept did not violate copyright law and sending the case back to the lower court for further action. It appears, however, that the lower court will now have to allow Cablevision to go ahead with deployment of its system, called a Remote Storage Digital Video Recorder, or RS-DVR. It is much cheaper for cable MSOs to operate than providing individual DVR boxes to subscribers, since all of the storage is done at a central location and accessed remotely by cable subscribers.

RBR/TVBR observation: The courts, like other parts of government, are trying to keep up with technology. Frankly, we can see both arguments in this case. The networks claimed that Cablevision was improperly storing their copyright material for its commercial use – delivering it when requested by a subscriber who had ordered it recorded. Cablevision argued that it was personal use by the subscriber, just like a physical DVR in their house, since the company had no control over what content was recorded and when it was played back. The first judge agreed with the networks, the appeals court with Cablevision. We wait to see if there’s another round in this battle.