Content owners sue Cablevision over network DVR service

Three television networks, four Hollywood motion picture studios and a growing list of cable outlets are suing to stop Cablevision Systems from deploying a new network video recording service.

The companies claim the DVR service by Cablevision, the nation's sixth-largest cable TV provider, violates their copyrights. The first suit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in New York. The plaintiffs are 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and The Walt Disney Co., along with broadcasters ABC, CBS and NBC. Last week, Time Warner's CNN and the Cartoon Network filed a separate suit.

Cablevision announced in March that it would offer subscribers a way to retrieve recorded shows from its own servers at the cable headend, rather than from the typical configuration of a hard drive installed in a set-top box.

The Associated Press reported that other cable companies, including Philadelphia-based Comcast, are closely watching the Cablevision experiment with the intention of offering a similar service. The technology, AP said, is expected to vastly increase the use of “time-shifting” video services because it would not require subscribers to buy or lease extra equipment.

The plaintiffs claim, however, that such a recording service is illegal and that Cablevision had refused to pay the studios a license fee or share in the revenue it would collect from subscribers for the service.

Under the concept of “fair use,” consumers have the right to time-shift the viewing of television programs. But, according to the plaintiffs, the fair use doctrine doesn't extend to companies that license the content only for broadcast. They contend that in order to store the shows and offer them on demand for a fee, companies must obtain a separate license.

“Cablevision is actually copying, storing and retransmitting it,” Kori Bernard, a spokeswoman for studio industry group the Motion Picture Association of America, told Reuters. “A commercial entity can't establish a for-profit, on-demand service without authorization from copyright owners whose content is used on that service.”

Cablevision said it examined the copyright implications of the service and found that it did not violate the law. The operator argues its proposed service would function more like TiVo because it enables individual subscribers, not its employees, to choose which programs to record and play back.

“This lawsuit is without merit, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Cablevision's remote-storage DVR and ignores the enormous benefit and well-established right of viewers to time-shift television programming,” Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella told the Associated Press.

The companies are asking the court to issue an injunction preventing Cablevision from launching the service.