Is the law on the side of place-shifters?
By Adam TURNER
When I was a kid, I remember laughing at the warning which would scroll across the bottom of Channel 7’s AFL footy replay, reminding you that you weren’t allowed to record it using your humble VCR.
It’s only in the last few years that Australian law has actually permitted time and format-shifting, even though we’ve been recording live television and ripping CDs for years. Content providers have been dragged kicking and screaming into the new technological age which empowers consumers as well as content creators.
Content providers have a long and inglorious history of attacking the various forms of content shifting - from MPAA head Jack Valenti comparing the VCR to the Boston Strangler, to Sony’s rootkit scandal and Australia’s underhanded Freeview campaign designed to trick people into buying PVRs with the ad-skipping disabled. If it was up to the copyright police, couches would come with manacles that would automatically chain us to the chair during the ad-breaks so we couldn’t take a piss.
Now the AFL, Australia’s most influential (and arrogant) sporting code, has decided to start a legal stoush over place-shifting. It’s targeting Optus’ TV Now service, which is a cloud-based PVR thaT can stream to a smartphone. The service offers chasing playback, so you can actually watch the live AFL broadcasts on only a two-minute delay. Australians have had access to place-shifting for several years via various specialist gadgets and online services, but this is probably the most mainstream example we’ve seen to date.
Optus believes it’s protected by the fair use laws which currently let you record the AFL at home to watch later. It looks like we’ll need to court ruling to clarify. A lot is riding on the outcome.
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