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8/5/2008
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Remote DVR Technology Does Not Violate Copyright Laws, Says Court

The appeals court overturned a prior ruling that Cablevision's storage of TV shows on a centralized server constituted copyright infringement.

Digital video recorders don't violate copyright laws, according to a court ruling issued Monday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled in favor of Cablevision, which was sued by media companies claiming that DVR capabilities on its set-top boxes constituted copyright infringement.

Cablevision's technology -- which would rely on centralized servers, instead of individual hard drives in the hands of customers -- is not in use. In 2006, Cablevision announced plans to make it available. Media companies filed a lawsuit shortly afterward.

Major networks, including ABC, CBS, and NBC, were among those that sued, claiming that storage of shows on central servers was the equivalent of unauthorized reproductions and transmissions. Cablevision's defense relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated, nearly 25 years ago, that Sony did not violate copyright laws by allowing customers to record shows on videotape.

Judge John M. Walker was part of a three-judge panel that overturned a lower court's ruling in favor of the media companies earlier this week. He said in the federal appeals court's written decision that the technology would not directly infringe on copyrights. He compared DVR service to a photocopy shop, which provides customers with a service rather than violating copyrights through its own actions.

The court explained that the people who press "record" are responsible for the copy, not the companies that store the data. It also stated that copies must be sufficiently permanent or stable to be considered copies under copyright law.

The lower court had agreed with the media companies' arguments, which said playback should be licensed -- the same way it is licensed for video on demand.

The plaintiffs are likely to appeal the decision.

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