For a while we followed the important Cablevision remote DVR
case, in which the entertainment industry argued that Cableivision offering a hosted DVR service for its users was infringing on their copyrights, even though DVRs are legal. The entertainment industry strained its credulity by arguing that because the DVR device was on Cablevision's property, rather than in someone's house (even though they functioned nearly identically), it completely changed the rules. They said that Cablevision required separate content licenses to offer such a service. Effectively, they were arguing that the length between the DVR and the TV determines whether or not there's infringement. That, of course, is ridiculous (though even more ridiculous was when they compared
a DVR to murder
Thankfully, the Second Court agreed and put forth a pretty good
, if slightly awkward, ruling, which pointed out that it didn't matter where the device was, that time shifting is legal, and this service really seemed no different than a DVR. The entertainment industry (of course) appealed, but the Supreme Court refused
to hear the case, so the law stands in the 2nd Circuit -- though with such a high profile case, one hopes that other Circuits would tend to defer to this ruling (though, they certainly don't have to).
Separately, we covered a very similar
case in Singapore, involving RecordTV, which had trouble at the lower courts, but eventually came to a similar ruling
as the US. In that case, the court even noted that allowing remote DVRs seems to provide benefits to society.
However, courts in other areas of the world apparently aren't quite as enlightened. Wonil Chung
, an IP lawyer in Korea, recently sent over his excellent review of a number of similar cases
from Korea and Japan where the rulings eventually all went the other way. The cases there all have their own specific details, but the general point was that the courts seemed to feel that if the equipment is housed and "owned" by the service provider, then the actions are done by the service provider... even if the end user is the one clicking the button. Effectively, those courts are saying that the length of the cable matters. Chung's analysis is balanced, and he notes that this can be a tricky issue. I agree that it's a complex issue that requires thinking through a variety of issues, but in the end, I have no problem saying that I believe the Korean and Japanese rulings defy common sense, while the US and Singapore rulings make sense.
Where it gets really important is understanding the wider implications of these rulings. Based on the rulings in Korea and Japan, it just became a lot more expensive and risky to set up any
cloud-based service in either country. That's because these rulings effectively say that liability is determined by the location of the equipment, rather than the location of the user. Cloud-based services have the equipment hosted far away from the user. But does that really mean that the service providers have now taken on the liability? In Korea and Japan apparently the answer is yes, and that should put a chill through anyone building cloud-based offerings in either country.