Justin.tv Not Guilty Of 'Stealing Cable' When Users Stream UFC Matches
from the good-ruling dept
Last year, we wrote about how Zuffa, the parent company of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was suing Justin.tv because some of its users streamed UFC matches. As we noted at the time, we couldn’t see how Zuffa would get past the DMCA’s safe harbors. Apparently, Zuffa tried to get around that by being way too creative for its own good and the court has now shut down those efforts. Basically, Zuffa focused on two areas not covered (or not clearly covered) by safe harbors. The first is trademark, which is neither covered by the DMCA’s safe harbors nor Section 230’s safe harbors — though, many courts have accepted similar rules that limit liability to third party service providers anyway. In this case, the court is extremely skeptical of the trademark claims, in part because it seemed clear that Zuffa was merely trying to use trademark law as if it were a “mutant copyright law,” which courts have rejected in the past.
The other attempt to get around safe harbors was to use the Communications Act, which has rules against “intercepting cable.” Justin.tv actually suggested that Section 230’s safe harbors should protect it from that claim — which makes sense — but the court doesn’t want to touch that argument. Instead, it just says that the basic idea that Justin.tv is illegally intercepting cable doesn’t make any sense — and notes, again, that it appears to be Zuffa seeking to do an end-run around copyright law:
In essence, Zuffa alleges that Justin.tv’s users copied Zuffa’s UFC event and then rebroadcast the UFC event over the internet. This is not the type of conduct properly addressed by the Communications Act, but by copyright law (and, potentially, trademark law) because Justin.tv had no relationship with the original cable or satellite signal: by the allegations, Justin.tv did not receive or intercept any actual cable or satellite signal or broadcast. The Court finds no evidence in the statutory language, other cases, or legislative history that the Communications Act addresses this type of conduct or was meant to bolster or act as a separate type of copyright claim.
Furthermore, as Eric Goldman highlights in the link above, there’s a further footnote discussion in which the court notes that if Zuffa’s “stealing cable” argument made sense, it would open up a whole host of legal issues against pretty much all cloud computing:
if the Court were to allow claims such as these, it would have to allow similar Communications Act claims against scores of “cloud computing” service providers such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon.com, Dropbox, Box.net, and others because Jusint.tv’s [sic] particular streaming service would be irrelevant. As an example, say a person took a snippet (or longer) of video of a UFC match being broadcast on their television with their iPhone, Windows Phone, etc. The iPhone then automatically uploads that video to one of dozens of cloud storage systems such as Apple’s iCloud. The Court refuses to find that Apple (or Microsoft, etc.) would be liable under the Communications Act for merely receiving and storing this data under the Communications Act. Yet, Zuffa arguesfor exactly this result when it argues that Justin.tv’s mere receipt of this video stream makes Justin.tv liable. In passing the Communications Act, Congress did not intend such a result, and this Court will not broaden the effect of the statute in this manner.
Nice to see a court recognize the troubling implications of such a crazy argument.