Supreme Court Backs Obama Up; Declines To Review DVR Decision

by , Jun 29, 2009, 2:13 PM
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court room In a rebuff to Hollywood, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a decision allowing Cablevision to go forward with remote-storage digital video recorders.

With the move, announced today, the Supreme Court leaves intact a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stating that remote-storage DVRs don't violate copyright law. The decision is in line with a request by the Obama administration, which had asked the Supreme Court to turn down the case.

Industry observers were following the case closely because the decision potentially affects many Web-based companies, including those offering digital music lockers, mixtapes, and other cloud storage services.

The dispute dates back to 2006, when Cablevision said it intended to offer a remote storage DVR. A coalition of film and TV studios filed suit to stop Cablevision from following through on its plan, arguing that the device would infringe copyright because Cablevision would itself make and store copies of shows. Older products like VCRs -- which were okayed by the Supreme Court 25 years ago -- as well as traditional DVRs, store programs in consumers' homes.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Cablevision's favor last year. The appellate court found that consumers would be responsible for making the copies, not Cablevision, which was only going to provide the technology. The studios then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

When the Justice Department weighed in on the matter, it argued that the service's remote nature should not in itself make the device unlawful. "From the consumer's perspective, respondents' [remote storage DVR] service would offer essentially the same functionality as a VCR or a set-top DVR," the U.S. Solicitor General argued in a brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the appeal.

Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of digital rights group Public Knowledge, cheered the Supreme Court's decision. "From a common-sense point of view, the lower court, and the U.S. Solicitor General, were correct in their interpretation of the copyright law that a recording is a recording, whether done on a set-top box or at the cable head-end, as Cablevision's proposed service allows," she said in a statement.

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