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MPAA Files Lawsuit Against Zediva.com

4 Apr, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The Motion Picture Association of America April 4 filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Zediva.com — less than three weeks after the website began offering Flash-based rental streams from new release discs.

The studio trade group said Zediva’s claim to be a virtual brick-and-mortar rental store and, thus, not obligated to license fees was bogus, and merely a front for illegal streaming of copyrighted material.

“Zediva’s mischaracterization of itself is a gimmick it hopes will enable it to evade the law and stream movies in violation of the studios’ exclusive rights,” said Dan Robbins, SVP and associate general counsel for the MPAA. “Courts have repeatedly seen through the façade of this type of copyright-avoidance scheme, and we are confident they will in this case, too.”

The suit seemed almost a foregone conclusion when Santa Clara, Calif.-based Zediva launched March 16, with the CEO claiming the service using “Slingbox-like technology” was no different than Blockbuster, Netflix and Redbox.

“Look, we are renting DVDs,” CEO Venky Srinivasan told Home Media Magazine March 16.

Legal experts said Srinivasan didn’t have legal precedence on his side.

“The first-sale doctrine protects the use of the physical good, but it doesn’t allow for public performance,” said Robert Rotstein, an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, and copyright attorney with Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp. “Even if they have a limited number of DVDs, under the law it’s still public performance.”

Robert Garrett, a partner with Washington D.C.’s Arnold & Porter law firm, agreed: Simple ownership and usage of a physical DVD is protected by the first-sale doctrine, but showing that DVD content publicly isn’t protected under federal copyright law.

“I don’t think it makes any difference whether they turn it into a digital file,” he said. “It’s a public performance of content being sent to multiple subscribers.”

The MPAA seeks an injunction and undisclosed damages.

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