DAR.fm Receives Cease & Desist For Letting People Record Radio Online
from the how-dare-they dept
Earlier this year, we wrote about Michael Robertson’s latest project, DAR.fm, noting that he was tempting copyright lawsuit fate again. DAR.fm is basically an online DVR for radio. It lets you record and listen to all sorts of online radio programming. As we noted at the time, it seemed inevitable that someone would challenge the legality of this — but it seemed like the Second Circuit’s ruling in the Cablevision online DVR case at least presented him with a case that supported his general view that such time shifting of radio, even if done remotely, is legal.
Either way, it appears he’s received his first cease & desist, which comes from Univision and is embedded below. Robertson is making his case against Univision publicly, first pointing out that it seems to be reacting the same way the TV industry did to TiVo and ReplayTV:
Ten years ago, ReplayTV and TiVo burst onto the scene introducing the digital video recorder (DVR) to the world. Immediately some predicted the end of the TV business because people could fast-forward through commercials. Lawsuits put ReplayTV out of business (in spite of superior technology). Eventually cooler heads prevailed and the technology thrived to the point where nearly half of American households have a DVR. Consumers could, for the first time, enjoy their favorite programming at a time convenient for them. Thanks in large part to the DVR, TV viewing is up 40% over the last decade which is especially notable given that competition for consumer attention has stiffened due to internet browsing, Skype, video games, and social networking.
You would think that with this backdrop radio companies would welcome DVR technology into their own industry and many probably will but at least one doesn’t – Univision.
He goes on to make the case that such time shifting is quite common and legal. In fact, he points out that Univision is more known for its TV stations, and are they really arguing that a DVR is legal for video, but a DAR is not for audio?
While recording broadcasted material may be new to radio, it’s not new to society and surely Univision must know that. Nearly 50% of US households have a DVR today. Univision’s TV business dwarfs its radio business. It’s likely that millions of people are making recordings of Univision TV shows as I write this. And some may be blinking their eyes or listening from another room transforming these video recordings into audio recordings. Similarly, internet users can capture online articles for later viewing using popular services like Readitlater and Instapaper and some may be doing that from the Univision.com website. If it’s legal in those channels it only makes sense that the same functionality is legal for radio.
In their demand letter Univision says that no court has addressed the legality of “precisely” the kind of service offered by DAR.fm. Well of course not the PRECISE service, but darn close. The case is called Cartoon Network v Cablevision. Cablevision wanted to offer a remote DVR service and media companies sued them alleging copyright infringement. (You can read assessment of this critically important case here.) Courts eventually ruled that a centralized recording service did not require a license from media companies and was not a copyright infringement. Cablevision now commercially offers this service under the name DVR Plus. Other companies have begun offering online recording services.
It will come as little surprise that I think DAR.fm should be legal, but the courts can be funny about this kind of thing. Even though, functionally, it may seem identical to a DVR, having it actually go to court is a crapshoot. Still, if Univision is smart, it’ll back down on this. Making their stations and programs more difficult to listen to hardly seems like a compelling business strategy.