Case Against UCLA For Streaming Licensed DVDs To Students Dismissed Yet Again
from the good-rulings dept
A few years ago we wrote about how UCLA professors were barred from continuing an existing program in which they had streamed properly licensed DVDs to students. The lawsuit came from the Association for Information Media and Equipment (AIME). We noted that one of the key aspects of “fair use” is supposed to be that it allows for educational use, and it seemed ridiculous that any such streaming wasn’t fair use. After thinking it over, UCLA decided to stand up for itself and put the videos back online. AIME sat on this for eight or nine months and finally sued, arguing that its contract with the University meant that UCLA had given up its fair use rights, and that even if it was fair use, it was a breach of contract. A year ago, the judge dismissed the case, mostly focusing on the question of whether or not AIME even had standing to sue and whether or not, as a state university, UCLA could hide behind a sovereign immunity claim.
AIME filed a new (amended) complaint against UCLA… which basically restated everything it had lost over, and then added a few claims. The court apparently was not impressed. It just dismissed the case all over again with prejudice, meaning that AIME can’t just refile. On top of that it actually dealt a bit more with the copyright questions. First, it was not at all impressed by AIME’s decision to just replead the same exact thing a second time:
In its order dismissing the FAC, the Court dismissed with prejudice all claims against the Regents and claims seeking damages against individual defendants in their official capacity on the grounds that these individual defendants are immune from suit under the doctrine of sovereign immunity… Plaintiffs have verbatim re-pleaded those claimsfrom the FAC for purposes of appeal…. As these claims have already been dismissed with prejudice, the Court does not analyze them further.
Later the court goes through a relatively quick fair use analysis, focused mainly on the question of whether it would have been obvious to the average person that this use was not fair use. The court finds plenty of ambiguity in the fair use analysis, and thus notes that it is not obviously a case of infringement, so AIME’s claim that this was clearly infringement doesn’t hold up.
Then there are a few other interesting points, including a discussion of whether or not streaming is a form of “distribution.” Remember that we were just discussing the whole distibution right under copyright law, even pointing out that if you read what copyright law actually says, it only refers to “material objects” in which a copyright-covered item is “fixed” — not to transient digital files. This appears to be one case where the court actually noticed that fact, and points out that with a stream, the digital product was not actually distributed:
Under the Copyright Act, distributed items must be “material objects” in which a copy is “fixed.” 17 U.S.C. § 101. Plaintiffs’ new allegations that “the Video Furnace system administrator retains an original copy of the AVP DVD while distributing copies to end users, which copies remain on the end user’s computer as long as the Video Furnace InStream player remains open” does not change this outcome. For a copy to be fixed, it must be “sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than a transitory duration.” 17 U.S.C. § 101. The “copy” on the end users computer, as alleged, is not fixed.
They also have an interesting response to the anti-circumvention DMCA claim in the amended lawsuit. One of the main problems many people have with the anti-circumvention clause is that it appears to apply absent any actual infringing activity. That is, under the DMCA it appears that merely circumventing DRM, even if for legitimate, non-infringing uses, is considered against the law. But here, the court rules that since the copy is legal, there is no problem with circumventing the DRM. That’s very interesting:
This Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to cure the defects with their DMCA claim. First, the allegations in the SAC do not support a claim that Defendants violated 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(A) by using the HVS Video Furnace software to “circumvent . . . a technological measure that effectively controls access to” the DVDs because UCLA had lawful access to the DVDs and Plaintiffs essentially allege improper usage of the DVDs.
Either way, the latest ruling is a complete victory for UCLA and yet another loss for AIME. While the question of fair use is still mostly brushed aside (unfortunately), the overall ruling is a good thing.