05 December, 2017

Cast Aside - Recording of TV Through the Cloud Infringes Copyright, Says CJEU

Many foreign nationals who have immigrated abroad yearn for a piece of home, either through food, music or TV and movies. Often this is done using online or on-demand services, and this interest can create opportunists who wish to capitalise on the home-sickness of ex-pats. Quite a few websites offer both legitimate and illegitimate means of doing so. In that vein, would the recording of TV shows for users, without copying it into your own servers, infringe copyright?

The case of VCAST Limited v RTI SpA concerns this question, where VCAST offered a service to users enabling them to record Italian television on-demand to an external storage provider of their choice. The user would select which show on which channel they would want to record, which VCAST then recorded for them onto their storage provider's servers. VCAST was subsequently sued by RTI, an Italian TV channel, for copyright infringement, ending up all the way at the CJEU.

The CJEU was posed two questions in the proceedings, which it subsequently merged into one, as they asked two sides of the same coin. The question was whether "…[the InfoSoc Directive], in particular Article 5(2)(b) thereof, precludes national legislation which permits a commercial undertaking to provide private individuals with a cloud service for the remote recording of private copies of works protected by copyright, by means of a computer system, by actively involving itself in the recording, without the rightholder’s consent". In other words, is it possible for national legislation to prevent the private copying of copyright protected works using a cloud recording service.

As set out by the Court: "…Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29, Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the reproduction right in respect of reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial". So long this use doesn't conflict with the works' normal exploitation or prejudice the legitimate interests in the works, exceptions and/or limitations are allowed.

According to case law, the CJEU considered that copying by natural persons acting in a private capacity would be likely to cause harm to the rightsholders concerned if prior authorisation from them isn't sought. This position was developed further in ACI Adam where the Court allowed for rightsholders objecting to infringements that might accompany the making of private copies, even though the exception prohibits them from objecting to private copying. Finally, third-parties can be involved in the making of private copies, provided they are a precondition to it.

The distinction between a mere third-party copying content and VCAST is VCAST's provision of the programs themselves, which the user then selects from. They therefore both copy and make available the copyright protected works to the consumer.


The Cloud can makes emotions run high
Even though rightsholders are prohibited from preventing the private copying of copyright works, as discussed above, they are not prohibited from preventing access to the works that are desired to be privately copied. This allowed the Court to move onto the matter of communication to the public, which third-parties cannot do. The distinction between simply copying, where the entity does not make the content available in a wider scale, and making works available and then copying them on request, is important and requires the court to address this point.

When assessing 'communication to the public' Courts have to consider two cumulative criteria; an 'act of communication' that is done to a 'public'. The former is a transmission of protected works, irrespective of technical means, and the latter an undetermined amount, although impliedly large, of people as possible recipients.

Through their service VCAST records broadcasts of TV shows and makes them available for its users. The amount of users is clearly enough to constitute a 'public', while the original transmission through VCAST's service is transmitted to that public. The service therefore infringes the right to communication to the public, and would require the authorisation of RTI (and other relevant parties not involved in the litigation).

The CJEU concluded that VCAST's service does not fall under the scope of Article 5(2)(b). In different words, answering the question posed: "…Directive 2001/29, in particular Article 5(2)(b) thereof, precludes national legislation which permits a commercial undertaking to provide private individuals with a cloud service for the remote recording of private copies of works protected by copyright, by means of a computer system, by actively involving itself in the recording, without the rightholder’s consent".

The case is quite surprising, since the matter didn't involve communication to the public at the face of it, only private copying. Even so, the connection made between the two makes sense, and is a relevant consideration in the wider issue. Third-parties making copies for users is still very much allowed; however, the stumbling block will be the making available of that content to users as done by VCAST.

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