Is Cablevision Caving On Remote DVR?

from the hopefully-not... dept

One of the more important copyright lawsuit decisions was last years appeals court ruling in the Cablevision remote DVR case, which we discussed at length at the time. Cablevision built a remote DVR system. It was almost exactly like a TiVo, except that the device sat in a Cablevision datacenter, rather than next to your television. Functionally, it was no different. It really was just the length of the wire and where the box sat. Now, using a DVR in your home to record TV is perfectly legal. But the TV networks hate that, even though DVRs may actually have helped the TV industry by making it easier for people to watch their favorite shows (no one ever said they were good at figuring out the big picture). So they sued Cablevision, claiming that because the box sat on Cablevision’s property, it was no longer legal and now it was copyright infringement.

The networks love to set up absolutely ridiculous explanations like saying that Cablevision is like the person who sets up a gun to go off when a door opens, so it’s not the person who opens the door who commits the murder, but the person who set it up. Except… that makes no sense. Murder is illegal. Recording a TV show for personal use is not. A more accurate analogy would be like setting up a pillow to fall on someone when you open the door. That’s not illegal for either the person who opened the door, or the person who set it up… because the action (falling pillow/recording a show for personal use) is perfectly legal. But the networks want to ignore this, and tried to twist copyright law by saying that because Cablevision’s remote DVR creates a buffer version for a fraction of a second, it’s making a copy, and thus violating copyright law. Seriously.

While a district court bought the argument, the appeals court (thankfully) pointed out how ridiculous this interpretation of the law was, and said the device is legal. The networks are now appealing to the Supreme Court, and the court has asked the Obama administration for input. I know there’s been massive lobbying from a lot of different parties trying to get the administration up to speed on the detailed issues, and hopefully the important points get across. While this may seem like a trivial issue, it could impact nearly every online service, that suddenly becomes liable for making a “buffer” copy on its own servers based on something you do on your computer. Lots of “cloud” computing services could suddenly face massive copyright liabilities.

Still… while we wait for the Supreme Court to go one way or the other with this, it appears that Cablevision has been negotiating a compromise on the device, which (as Broadband Reports notes) probably means making things a lot worse for consumers (funny how that works). Once again, we’d have a scenario where content companies are killing off innovation because they’re unable to adapt themselves — and that’s a really sad outcome. However, it might also lead to an end of the lawsuit, which could leave the appeals court ruling standing (which would be a good thing, rather than risk a Supreme Court overturn).

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Companies: cablevision

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Comments on “Is Cablevision Caving On Remote DVR?”

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pegr (profile) says:

But that's not quite right either...

OK, first things first. I don’t know how the system works, but I’m making some fairly obvious assumptions. That said…

CableVision isn’t likely setting up a DVR for each subscriber. They are more likely recording all streams, then allowing their customers to replay streams at their direction. That pushes it into a grey area, though Mike is right; functionally, it is equivilant to using a DVR maintained by the cable company.

Anonymous Coward says:

One question would be home much material cablevision is storing that isn’t ever used.

Another question would be where does this differ from moving to a sort of PPV system, where all network TV is turned into a series of shows you can watch any time, over and over, at your discretion? After all, end users could just mark every prime time on every channel for recording, and view it all later whenever they want, or view the same shows over and over.

Buffer copies are legally a very grey area indeed. It is actually not a bad thing to see it end up in court.

Jim (user link) says:


Pegr – You can read the court ruling, which includes a description of how the RS-DVR system works.

As far as I can see, it’s virtually identical to Tivo in it’s basic function. The consumer has to record shows; he/she has to record a show from the beginning to get the whole show; and each consumer gets a specific amount of storage space on Cablevision’s Aroyo servers. And if two people record the same show, the RS-DVR system stores two copies (one in each consumer’s allocated storage space).

In my opinion, Big Media doesn’t necessarily want to kill the RS-DVR; they want to get PAID for it. They’d like to get paid for Tivo, too. The thing is that they think they have a better chance to use litigation to get Cablevision to cough it up. Given that Big Media won the first round, perhaps they’re right. It doesn’t seem fair, but as William Munny (Clint Eastwood in “The Unforgiven”) once said said, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

YouAreWrong says:

Re: Re:

The Supreme Court seeks an opinion from the Solicitor General (an executive position) in many prospective cases, especially those of technical nature.

And it’s only unconstitutional for the executive or legislative to ask the judicial what they think. It’s not unconstitutional for the judicial to ask the others.

Overcast says:

But the TV networks hate that, even though DVRs may actually have helped the TV industry by making it easier for people to watch their favorite shows (no one ever said they were good at figuring out the big picture).

There are a number of shows I watch now, that formerly before having a DVR I was unable to watch. I do fast forward past many of the commercials, but I still see them go by and on the occasion it’s something that I may be interested in – I may take down a number or heck with it on the DVR I can always go back and get information as needed.

Remember the days before the net if you wanted one of those Time-Life music collections or some other record that wasn’t available at retail how you would have to hunt for a pen or rather just think ‘I’ll get the number the next time’.

You think they would be happier.

Xanthir, FCD (profile) says:

Too much precedent to get overturned

This case is straight retarded. The argument that buffering a copy is infringment is trivially false, as your computer does that every single day. Hell, it does it for more than a fraction of a second with cached files that may stick around indefinitely! The law already recognizes that this brand of copying is completely legal.

If the SCOTUS did take up the case, there’s no way they could rule in anything but Cablevision’s favor.

dean collins (profile) says:

It's a big deal

I’m surprised more people aren’t making a bigger deal about this.

I wrote a post last year about what this could mean for the future of video and music licensing here

(lol or just go to – i cant believe that domain wasn’t taken).

Dean Collins

Anonymous12 says:

I don’t know about you, but I want that DVR in my house.
I don’t care if the functionality is the same. I also want to be able to move content from my DVR, but even though that is technically possible, it is not currently an option.
If it does become an option some day, having the DVR at the cable company is NOT the best deal.

BTR1701 says:


> A more accurate analogy would be like setting
> up a pillow to fall on someone when you open
> the door. That’s not illegal for either the
> person who opened the door, or the person who
> set it up.

Actually, dropping a pillow on someone (without their knowledge or permission) is technically a battery, and it *is* illegal. Technically.

I love being the killjoy! 😉

Rekrul says:

Why would anyone want to have their shows remotely recorded by some company? What is behind the current push to have companies store all your data rather than keeping it locally?

I know the corporate motivation for it, but a lot of users seem to be in favor of it too. I just don’t get why you’d want to rely on some company to keep your data, be it TV shows, pictures or whatever, for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, let me get this straight. The cable company, presumably because of some licensing, can take the incoming feed, send it through the world’s biggest cable splitter, and thereby make zillions of copies, one for each of their customers, to send down their cables … but making one lousy additional copy after that is infringing? WTF?

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