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University intranet streaming akin to classroom showing, rules US court

Streaming copyright-protected content from a DVD to students over a university intranet is a public performance equivalent to showing the students the video in the classroom, a US court has said.07 Oct 2011

The district court in California said that the University of California (UCLA) did not break its licence agreement with Ambrose Video Publishing (AVP) by copying a DVD about Shakespeare plays and uploading the content for students to remotely access over the University's intranet.

"AVP concedes that it licensed [UCLA] to 'publicly perform' the DVD," the court said in its ruling. (13-page / 63KB PDF)

"At oral argument, AVP conceded that within the scope of the right to publicly perform the DVD is [UCLA’s] ability to show the DVD in a classroom. [AVP's] basic argument is that streaming is not included in a public performance because it can be accessed outside of a classroom, and as remotely as overseas," the ruling said. "However, [AVP] does not dispute that in order to access the DVDs, a person must have access to the UCLA network and specifically to the DVD. The type of access that students and/or faculty may have, whether overseas or at a coffee shop, does not take the viewing of the DVD out of the educational context," the ruling said.

"The Court finds that the licensing agreement allows [UCLA] to put the DVD content on the UCLA internet network as part of the provision of the agreement that [UCLA] could 'publicly perform' the DVD content, and therefore [AVP] have failed to state a claim of copyright infringement over their right to publicly perform the DVD," it said.

The court also said that AVP had failed to show that UCLA had violated the US' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by using software to "circumvent" access restrictions to the DVD content in order to "traffic" it.

"[AVP] alleges that [UCLA] used a company called Video Furnace in order to bypass a copy prevention system established by AVP in its DVDs," the ruling said.

"More specifically, [AVP] alleges that [UCLA] worked with Video Furnace to make circumvention applications available for higher education. However, [AVP] does not allege how [UCLA] worked with Video Furnace, or what actions [UCLA] took that constitute the 'manufacture, import, offer to the public, prov[ision], or otherwise traffic[king]' of the DVDs. The conclusory allegations [made by AVP] are, by themselves, insufficient to establish a violation of the anti-trafficking provision of the DMCA," it said.

The Court ruled that the act of copying the DVD in order to stream the content online constituted "incidental fair use". Under US copyright law a 'fair use' exemption exists that allows copyright material to be reproduced for the purposes of research and education, commentary, criticism and reporting.

"Because placing the DVD on the UCLA network is part of the right that [AVP] licensed to [UCLA], the copying was incidental fair use," the ruling said.

UCLA said it was "pleased" with the ruling.

"The court ruling acknowledges what UCLA has long believed, that streaming licensed DVDs related to coursework to UCLA students over UCLA's secure network is an appropriate educational use," Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, said in a statement.