In re: Place-shifting, is it legal?

You may or may not know the Sony Betamax case (Sony v. Universal City Studios) where the Supreme Court held that it was fair use to 'Time-shift' TV shows via videotape, i.e. tape the whole program and watch it at a different, possibly more convenient time. That was all well and good, more recently there has come about the idea of location shifting or place-shifting, such as the Slingbox which allows you to watch your own tv shows (live stream) via the internet. Similarly SageTV has just come out with place-shifting software.
Apparently Slingbox is extremely popular with certain markets, such as business travelers who can watch their home teams in their hotel rooms, or in the airports (assuming they pay the rip off fees I've mentioned before) This is all well and good, but the question comes in do content providers want you place shifting your TV shows? You've clearly paid for the content (its coming into your house via the air, cable or satellite) and would be entitled to watch it in your house, but can you watch it half way around the world? or across town? or across the country? For some things like sports they have meticulously setup regions and blackout zones where you won't see the broadcast (the other night the cleveland indians game for example was only shown on the local channel and not ESPN, but if I lived somewhere else and slingboxed it here, or if i had a friend who would let me log in and watch his TV) So you see the potential problems, including setting up slingbox accounts for people who don't live there to send them games that would be out of market (NFL is probably the most likely to hate this as their games are broadcast on air and are mostly at the same time, so regional restrictions matter)
The argument that place-shifting was fair sue was made in the case of UMG v. MP3.com and the court didn't accept it. That case dealt with shifting CDs which you proved ownership of once and could then stream from a central server to anywhere else. Clearly this would be different though as you are streaming in the slingbox case your own content, not some central clearinghouses content. Still proximity is at play in certain content such as sports that I mentioned so its unclear to me how this would be treated legally (see here)

"I'll bet there will be a Supreme Court ruling sometime in the next decade specifically addressing this issue: Does the consumer have the right to place-shift as they do time-shift their content?" said Ted Shelton, chief operating officer of Orb Networks, a competitor to Sling Media that offers its own place-shifting software online free of charge.

Then on a side note, is place-shifting going to lead to more homogenization of the country (and is that bad or good?) You can't really argue that sports teams are that local anymore (probably as many yankees fans in Florida as NY) but at one point people went to the game, today TV is a bigger deal. There was an interesting blogpost I thought kind of touched on this called 'Place-shifting Walmart'

Update:  A few articles that I saw recently that are worth checking out on SlingBox and the legal issues:

Will Hollywood sue the SlingBox out of existence?

Goodmon: Stop the SlingBox

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One Response

  1. […] You’d think that America’s pastime would just be happy to have fans these days, as more and more turn away from the excitement of baseball to the excitement of ovals instead of diamonds, and pit stops instead of bullpens.  However MLB doesn’t seem to want some of its more hardcore fans, fans who want to place-shift their home-team games via the internet.  Why wouldn’t they?  Well for one MLB already has its own service that you can subscribe to for a fee to watch MLB games streamed over the internet.  Secondly, for out of market fans (read permanently out of market, rather than an airline pilot or business traveler) they would probably rather have them subscribe to the MLB package available via satellite or cable.  As I mentioned before (In re: Placeshifting is it Legal?) the potential legal problems for Slingbox stem from the regional nature of cable agreements, meaning your cable company is selling not a national right to view your local team, but only a local right.  Basically MLB and others want you to pay twice, or at least pay a premium to have roving access to content.  Thankfully CD producers and book writers haven’t figured out a way to do this yet, as having to pay to read my books while traveling, would likely be a hassle…also in other news SageTV, who makes the PVR software that I use, and recommend, is pushing forward with more place-shifting technology, this time for the Linux crowd (see here). But we’re not talking Napster here, argues Buchanan. The cable subscriber in such a scenario already purchased the content from a programmer back home and under the law can watch it wherever he or she chooses, he said. […]

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