Hollywood Studios Win Preliminary Injunction Against Zediva

  • A U.S. District judge in Los Angeles issued a preliminary injunction against Zediva, favoring the Motion Picture Association of America in its copyright infringement lawsuit.
  • Dan Robbins, senior VP for the MPAA, calls the decision a great victory for workers in the film and television industry.
  • Zediva streams recently released DVDs to customers and claims it is no different than a brick-and-mortar rental service but operates over the Internet.
  • Judge John Walter concluded that Zediva violates the “transmit” clause of the Copyright Act. Zediva will appeal the decision.

ISPs Agree to Voluntary Copyright Enforcement Plan

  • Hollywood studios and music recording labels announced an agreement with major ISPs including AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon in which the ISPs agree to send “copyright alerts” to consumers who have accessed pirated content.
  • The intention is to educate, not punish.
  • A 2007 study showed that a “large majority” of those who receive alerts will stop the illegal activity.
  • If the alerts have no effect, mitigation measures may be pursued. Consumers will have the option of an independent review for a $35 fee.
  • Mitigation measures begin with the fifth or sixth alert, and may include: “temporary reductions of Internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter or reviews and responds to some educational information about copyright, or other measures that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter.”

Law Professors Argue that Protect IP Act is Unconstitutional

  • Some 90 law professors have signed a joint letter opposing the Protect IP Act which is intended to deal with copyright infringement. The Act is currently being reviewed by Congress.
  • The letter contends that the Act’s domain-blocking provisions can be viewed as Internet censorship, which is barred by the First Amendment.
  • “The Act would allow courts to order any Internet service to stop recognizing [a] site even on a temporary restraining order… issued the same day the complaint is filed” without allowing for an adversary proceeding, which has been required by the Supreme Court.
  • Moreover, blocking an entire domain when infringing material exists in a subdomain is equivalent to “burning the house to roast the pig.”

Zediva: Simple Rental Solution or Copyright Violation?

David Pogue of the New York Times writes that we are in a fascinating transitional period from physical media to streaming services, but that accessing streaming movies from our TVs, laptops and phones comes with a price. For example, we are missing some of the DVD features including subtitles, multiple languages and director’s commentary. We are also restricted regarding when we have access to some streaming content and how long our subscription or per-title fee allows us to view a specific title.

In response to these concerns, Pogue mentions a new streaming service named Zediva.com that provides subtitle, language and commentary options in addition to some surprising (and perhaps disturbing, for the content creators and distributors) business model features. Rented movies are available for two weeks instead of 24 hours, current titles are available the same day as DVD releases, and there are no hardware or subscription fees — simply a rental charge of $2 per movie.

The process is simple. Zediva has set up hundreds of DVD players in its California data center; the company purchases dozens of copies of current releases and makes them available to consumers. As Pogue writes: “The DVD is simply sending you the audio and video signals, as if it were connected to your home with a really, really long cable.”

Of course, content creators and distributors may have issue with this approach. In related news, the MPAA has filed a lawsuit against Zediva (since Pogue’s article), claiming that the company is violating copyright law by streaming DVDs. While the company bills itself as a movie-rental service, comparing its service with companies like Netflix that purchase hundreds of copies of popular movies and then mailing them to renters, the MPAA’s lawyers argue the service is a form of “public performance” that would require a license.

Related Wall Street Journal article: “Hollywood Studios Sue Start-Up Zediva” (4/4/11)

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