The Association for Information and Media Equipment (AIME) made good on its threat earlier this year by filing a copyright infringement lawsuit this week against the University of California system and the chancellor of the UC Los Angeles campus (UCLA). The challenge levied both in January 2010 and in the Dec. 7th filing contends that UCLA infringed upon the copyrights of Ambrose Video, one of the institutional members of AIME, by copying (in violation of the DMCA), digitizing and streaming full length Ambrose Video DVD content via a password protected on-demand technology delivery system. Specifically, the complaint alleges that UCLA digitized a DVD series of BBC Shakespearean productions and streamed them more than 130 times to students and faculty.
Ambrose Video, like many film distribution companies including Films for the Humanities, New Day Films, and California Newsreel, provide by license, which is assented to upon purchase of their DVD products, that digitization and streaming of DVD content is prohibited and that a separate license must be purchased. Ambrose and these other film distribution companies offer, as part of their services, streaming video on-demand from their own servers or by license from an institution’s servers. AIME contends in its complaint that the actions of UCLA are not only a violation of license (hence, a breach of contract) but also, by digitizing and streaming its members’ DVDs, colleges and universities are unfairly preempting this emerging market and great harm will be sustained by the educational video business.
UCLA’s stance is that its actions fall within three exemptions of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. First, UCLA claims that the streaming of full length DVD content constitutes a public display under § 110(1). Second, the University claims that the TEACH Act exemption at § 110(2) applies. Finally, UCLA resorts, as a fallback position, to the fair use exemption at § 107. In its complaint, AIME addresses each of these assertions of exemption. AIME contends that the streaming of content is not a public display because the attendant requirement of “face to face” teaching is not present. Rather, students and faculty can access the streamed content on-demand, at any time and at any place, and not necessarily simultaneously. The TEACH Act exemption does not apply, according to AIME, because the Ambrose Video DVDs are separately marketed as available for “mediated instructional activities” through its on-demand streaming service. The TEACH Act expressly excludes from its exemptions those works explicitly produced and sold for distance learning. The TEACH Act also, albeit ambiguously, limits its exemption to “limited and reasonable” portions of fictional or dramatic works. In this case, entire DVDs were streamed. Finally, the result of a balancing of the four factors of fair use likely would not extend protection to the actions of UCLA, argues AIME, because of the aforementioned harm to the market and the streaming of entire DVDs.
The AIME suit against UCLA, unlike the copyright litigation instituted by journal publishers against Georgia State for its e-reserves practices, seeks monetary damages in addition to injunctive and other relief. My sincere hope is that the budget crisis faced by the UC system will not lead it to enter into a quick settlement of the dispute and thereby deny us the opportunity to have these pervading questions answered by a court of law. I also hope that the new Copyright Czarina, members of Congress, and the Library of Congress will note the important issues raised by this case and take steps to update the Copyright Act through amendment or design of further exemptions to address the opportunities technology offers educators and students so that pedagogical goals in the online classroom can be met same as in the physical classroom.