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Cablevision Seeks Boxless DVR

28 Mar, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Cablevision Systems Corp., a New York-based cable operator, is planning to roll out technology that would allow its 2 million subscribers to record TV and movies without a set-top box.

The service, which reportedly allows users to record up to 45 hours of programming, including two shows at once while viewing a third, would store the content on Cablevision's network servers and not a digital video recorder (DVR), according to The Wall Street Journal.

The company plans to test the $10 monthly service in about 1,000 homes beginning in the second quarter.

Reports suggest Cablevision could run afoul of use restrictions with content providers regarding piracy and copyright concerns. The company said it believes storing programming on a network server would abide by fair-use provisions currently applicable to DVRs.

“We think the copyright [for a] network DVR is the same as for a physical DVR in a house where the customer uses material for their personal use,” said Cablevision CEO Tom Rutlege.

Fred von Lohman, senior intellectual property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties watchdog, said studios have become mesmerized by the lucrative potential of repurposed content after consumers were willing to pay $1.99 to download “Lost” the night after it aired.

“I predict Cablevision starts getting letters from lawyers before the week is up,” said von Lohman. “We know how the studios feel about DVRs. They sued ReplayTV in 2001 for offering consumers an improved DVR experience. And in Replay's case, they were not the one making the copies.”

He said the law has never properly addressed “fair use” as it relates to DVRs. The issue was never settled with ReplayTV after parent SonicBlue went bankrupt in 2003.

Lohman said the courts have traditionally treated an individual's fair use rights differently when a third party for hire was involved.

“The courts have been less forgiving when a third party is involved,” von Lohman said. “That's puts another layer of uncertainty into the situation.”

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