Cablevision Loses Remote DVR Case

New York-based cable operator Cablevision has lost a court battle which pitted the company against Hollywood studios and television networks over its proposed plans to introduce Remote Storage DVRs. The ruling came from Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, who found that Cablevision’s proposed service would violate the studios’ and networks’ copyrights by effectively permitting re-transmission of the content.

Cablevision said in a statement: “We are disappointed by the judge’s decision, and continue to believe that remote-storage DVRs are consistent with copyright law and offer compelling benefits for consumers—including lower costs and broader availability of this popular technology.”

Cable companies have been considering the possibilities of so-called remote DVRs (Cablevision’s would have been called an RS-DVR, for Remote Storage DVR) for years. The basic idea is that instead of individual cable subscribers recording programs to digital video recorders in their own homes, the programming is instead recorded and stored on servers at the cable operator. Users can then tap into the programming from their home set-top boxes, or (potentially) over broadband Internet connections from anywhere in the world, or even choose to have their programs sent to their mobile phones. The remote DVR concept would save the cable companies money and support costs because they wouldn’t have to install and support DVRs in households throughout their franchise areas. (Although, we wouldn’t really expect any of that cost savings to get passed along to consumers in the form of lower cable bills.) Consumers, in turn, would be able to access their programming in new and innovative ways (for which, we expect, the cable companies would actually raise consumers’ cable bills).

Cablevision says it is considering an appeal of Judge Chin’s ruling, but the loss comes down pretty squarely on the sides of studios and television networks who argued that the remote DVR concept amounts to effectively allowing the cable companies to rebroadcast their programming at will, which would be a violation of copyright and content licenses. Cablevision maintains the idea of remote DVRs is consistent with principles of copyright law. We’re sure studios and television networks would be happy to play ball with remote DVR features, no doubt under re-negotiated, higher-fee licensing terms. Of course, those costs would be passed from the cable companies along to consumers in the form of (you guessed it!) higher cable bills.