EU Court: Cloud-Based TV Recorder Requires Rightsholder Permission

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VCAST advertises itself as a VCR for the cloud, allowing users to record terrestrial TV into online storage to watch at a later point. But is it legal? According to a new ruling from the European Court of Justice, making TV shows available to consumers in this fashion must be authorized by rights holders.

Over the years, many useful devices have come along which enable the public to make copies of copyright works, the VCR (video cassette recorder) being a prime example.

But while many such devices have been consumed by history, their modern equivalents still pose tricky questions for copyright law. One such service is VCAST, which markets itself as a Video Cloud Recorder. It functions in a notionally similar way to its older cousin but substitutes cassette storage for that in the cloud.

VCAST targets the Italian market, allowing users to sign up in order to gain access to more than 50 digital terrestrial TV channels. However, rather than simply watching live, the user can tell VCAST to receive TV shows (via its own antenna system) while recording them to private cloud storage (such as Google Drive) for subsequent viewing over the Internet.

VCAST attracted the negative interests of rightsholders, including Mediaset-owned RTI, who doubted the legality of the service. So, in response, VCAST sued RTI at the Turin Court of First Instance, seeking a judgment confirming the legality of its operations. The company believed that since the recordings are placed in users’ own cloud storage, the Italian private copying exception would apply and rightsholders would be compensated.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the complexity of the case, the Turin Court decided to refer questions to the European Court of Justice. It essentially asked whether the private copying exception is applicable when the copying requires a service like VCAST and whether such a service is allowed to operate without permission from copyright holders.

In September, Advocate General Szpunar published his opinion, concluding that EU law prohibits this kind of service when copyright holders haven’t given their permission. Today, the ECJ handed down its decision, broadly agreeing with Szpunar’s conclusion.

“By today’s judgment, the Court finds that the service provided by VCAST has a dual functionality, consisting in ensuring both the reproduction and the making available of protected works. To the extent that the service offered by VCAST consists in the making available of protected works, it falls within communication to the public,” the ECJ announced.

“In that regard, the Court recalls that, according to the directive, any communication to the public, including the making available of a protected work or subject-matter, requires the rightholder’s consent, given that the right of communication of works to the public should be understood, in a broad sense, as covering any transmission or retransmission of a work to the public by wire or wireless means, including broadcasting.”

The ECJ notes that the original transmission made by RTI was intended for one audience. In turn, the transmission by VCAST was intended for another. In this respect, the subsequent VCAST transmission was made to a “new public”, which means that copyright holder permission is required under EU law.

“Accordingly, such a remote recording service cannot fall within the private copying exception,” the ECJ concludes.

The full text of the judgment can be found here.

The key ruling reads as follows:

Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society, in particular Article 5(2)(b) thereof, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which permits a commercial undertaking to provide private individuals with a cloud service for the remote recording of private copies of works protected by copyright, by means of a computer system, by actively involving itself in the recording, without the rightholder’s consent.

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