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Cartoon Network v. CSC Holdings

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Citation Edit

The Cartoon Network LP, LLLP v. CSC Holdings, Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2008) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

In March 2006, Cablevision, an operator of cable television systems, announced the introduction of its new "Remote Storage DVR System." As designed, the RS-DVR allows Cablevision customers who do not have a stand alone DVR (similar to a VCR but instead they store recorded programming on an internal hard drive rather than a cassette, and customers can play the programs back later at their convenience) to record cable programming on central hard drives housed and maintained by Cablevision at a "remote" location.

RS-DVR customers may then receive playback of those programs through their home television sets, using only a remote control and a standard cable box equipped with the RS-DVR software. Cablevision notified its content providers, including plaintiffs, of its plans to offer RS-DVR, but it did not seek any license from them to operate or sell the RS-DVR.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

Plaintiffs, Cartoon Network, which hold the copyrights to numerous movies and television programs, sued Cablevision for declaratory and injunctive relief. They alleged that Cablevision's proposed operation of the RS-DVR would directly infringe their exclusive rights to both reproduce and publicly perform their copyrighted works.

Plaintiffs only alleged theories of direct infringement, not contributory infringement, and Cablevision waived any defense based on fair use.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the copyright owners. Cablevision appealed.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The Buffer Data Edit

Given that the data reside in no buffer for more than 1.2 seconds before being automatically overwritten, and in the absence of compelling arguments to the contrary, the court held that the copyrighted works were not "embodied" in the buffers for a period of more than transitory duration and were therefore not "fixed" in the buffers. The act of buffering did not create copies, as the Copyright Act defines that term.

Direct Liability for Creating the Playback Copies Edit

On the facts of this case, copies produced by the RS-DVR system are "made" by the RS-DVR customer, and Cablevision's contributions to this reproduction by providing the system does not warrant the imposition of direct liability. Therefore, Cablevision is entitled to summary judgment on this point, and the district court erred in awarding summary judgment to plaintiffs.

Transmission of RS-DVR Playback Edit

The court found that the transmit clause directs us to identify the potential audience of a given transmission, i.e., the persons "capable if receiving" it, to determine whether that transmission is made 'to the public." Because each RS-DVR playback transmission is made to a single subscriber using a single unique copy produced by that subscriber, we conclude that such transmissions are not performances "to the public," and therefore do not infringe any exclusive right of public performance. It based its decision on the application of undisputed facts.

The appellate court held that:

(1) Cablevision's embodiments of copyrighted programs were not "fixed," as required to qualify as a "copy" under Copyright Act;
(2) copies were "made" by Cablevision's customers, and therefore Cablevision was not directly liable under the Copyright Act; and
(3) playback transmissions of copies were not performances "to the public," and therefore did not infringe the exclusive right of public performance under the Copyright Act.

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