Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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11/20/2006
11:55 AM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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TiVo And Universal Advance The Copyright Conflicts

There's been a lot of action recently in the ongoing copyright conflicts over distributing music, movies, and TV shows online. But the two most interesting developments have to do with TiVo introducing a new feature that amounts to hanging a "SUE ME" sign on their backs, and, separately, Universal finding an innovative, and possibly groundbreaking, legal strategy in its copyright lawsuit against MySpace.

There's been a lot of action recently in the ongoing copyright conflicts over distributing music, movies, and TV shows online. But the two most interesting developments have to do with TiVo introducing a new feature that amounts to hanging a "SUE ME" sign on their backs, and, separately, Universal finding an innovative, and possibly groundbreaking, legal strategy in its copyright lawsuit against MySpace.

Item #1: Let's start with TiVo, because I have two of them in my living room. TiVo last week announced an upgrade to its TiVo Desktop software for Windows XP PCs to allow users to transform QuickTime, WMV, and MP4 videos for viewing on their TiVos.

"There is an explosion in video on the Web that is not intended to be rights-protected," Tom Rogers, president and CEO of TiVo, said in a statement (emphasis added by me), "and now the consumer can decide which of that video he or she would like to view on the TV set."

That's all to the well and good, but there's also an explosion of video on the Web that was intended to be rights-protected -- bootleg copies of movies and TV shows on peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent. Most of the people now using those networks are watching the bootleg video their PCs. Unless I'm missing something, the new TiVo Desktop software -- priced at a modest $24.95 -- will make it oh-so-easy for those users to transfer that downloaded video to their TiVos, and watch it from the comfort of their living rooms. That'll make bootlegging video much more popular, and make TiVo a big target for a copyright-violation lawsuit.

I don't think it'll be very long before some big media company sues TiVo, as Napster and other peer-to-peer networking companies have already been sued. Unless I'm missing something. Which I could be. If you've got another angle on this, please drop a message below.

Item #2: Universal Music sued MySpace Friday over copyright infringement. On the surface, this seems like yet another online copyright-infringement lawsuit: Universal charges that MySpace is making gajillions of dollars off of the bazillion kids who are creating pages for themselves and uploading their favorite music from the Partridge Family or the Monkees or whatever it is that kids these days are listening to. But in fact Universal is pursuing an interesting, and potentially groundbreaking, new legal strategy.

MySpace says it's following the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; MySpace says it is (loosely paraphrased) just a passive receptacle for the videos, it does nothing to encourage them, and it promptly takes down copyrighted material when asked to do so.

So far, nothing new there.

Except Universal is charging that MySpace violates the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA by providing tools to allow users to convert video for uploading and posting to their MySpace pages. Universal argues that makes MySpace not just a passive receptacle, it makes MySpace and active partner in bootlegging.

This lawsuit pits multibillion-dollar multinational against multibillion-dollar multinational: Universal Music vs. News Corp., which owns MySpace. For that reason, I expect it'll end in a settlement; mega-companies don't like to pursue lawsuits to their conclusion unless they think they're guaranteed a victory.

Indeed, this could all be just a matter of Universal trying to use the courts to negotiate with MySpace; Reuters reports that the two companies were in lengthy discussions for MySpace to license Universal properties, but the negotiations broke down Thursday, a day before Universal sued.

Universal is also sending out cease-and-desist letters to sites that host a parody video of U2's song "One."

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