Judge Rules Against Remotely Watching DVDs over the Internet

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Streaming movies online is public performance, no matter how you do it. At least, that seems to be the takeaway in the preliminary injunction granted against Zediva by a federal judge presiding over the Motion Picture Association of America’s current suit against the video-on-demand provider.

(MORE: MPAA Asks Judge to Shut Down Movie Streaming Service)

Zediva is defending itself from a claim that it illegally streams movies online without the appropriate license by explaining that its business model means that each user is actually renting a physical DVD and watching that one DVD’s playback remotely, meaning that the company technically only offers private exhibition—although, admittedly, one that relies on online streaming as a delivery system. Per Zediva’s FAQ page:

“When you rent a movie on Zediva, you are renting both a DVD and DVD Player in our data center. During the period of the rental, the DVD and the DVD Player can only be used by you.”

Why not just offer straightforward streaming like Netflix? Because enabling remote access to physical DVDs lets Zediva offer new titles earlier than other streaming services—basically the same day they’re available on DVD. “Instead of getting explicit licenses from Hollywood studios to offer movie streaming to the public, the company believes it is merely ‘renting’ DVDs for private exhibition,” notes the Hollywood Reporter.

As it turns out, California federal judge John F. Walter isn’t buying that explanation. Citing existing law and reports from the House of Representatives about the public nature of the internet, Walter issued the injunction by explaining, “Defendants are violating Plaintiffs’ exclusive right to publicly perform their Copyrighted Works by transmitting those Copyrighted Works to the public over the internet, without a license or Plaintiffs’ permission, through the use of Defendants’ Zediva service.”

Both parties now have a week to agree on an injunction that fulfills the judge’s order to their mutual satisfaction. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Zediva decides to settle at some point during this week, despite a statement saying that the company “will keep fighting for consumers’ right to watch a DVD they’ve rented, whether that rental is at the corner store or by mail or over the Internet.”

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

MORE: Does ‘Place Shifting’ Make Movie Watching Public or Private?

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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