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

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When is streaming movies online not streaming movies online? That’s not the set-up for some existential movie piracy joke, but the question at the heart of a lawsuit between the Motion Picture Association of America and a company called Zediva.

Zediva offers a video-on-demand service that it believes avoids the problems that have beset similar services in the way that it operates; instead of traditional VoD, Zediva allows subscribers to rent a physical DVD that will be played at its central location, with the signal transmitted to your location via the internet. In this way, all the company is legally doing is “place shifting” a private DVD playback – something that has already been allowed by a federal appeals court in a 2009 DVR-related lawsuit. The MPAA, however, disagrees with the “place shifting” definition, preferring the more traditional “public performance,” which would mean that Zediva is breaking studios’ copyright with each transmission… hence the lawsuit.

Both sides have lawyered up with well-respected copyright attorneys, including veterans of cases involving Google, Comcast, Universal Music Group, Limewire and other high-profile clients, and it’s expected to be a much-watched case. Considering the outcome could affect all VoD enterprises going forward, I’d be surprised if it could be anything else. But I wonder whether it will count as a public performance or private event…?

More on Techland:

Zediva’s Movie Rentals Are 50% Cheaper Than iTunes

Live TV Comes to iPad, But You’ll Have to Stay Home

Digital Privacy: If You’ve Done Nothing Wrong, Do You Have ‘Nothing to Hide;?