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July 07, 2005
Prediction: No Lawsuit Against Slingbox
Yesterday, the Hollywood Reporter published an article warning that the Slingbox from Sling Media (which allows you to stream video from their DVR to a computer outside the home) risks a secondary liability copyright lawsuit, just days after the decision in Grokster (Slingbox Could Spark New Lawsuits). The EFF's Fred von Lohmann also sees this as a possibility (First Post-Grokster Cold Front?). He points to the following quotes in the Hollywood Reporter article:
- "We're hopeful Slingbox will incorporate technology that will respect copyright," said Dean Garfield, vp and director of legal affairs at MPAA. "You don't have the authority to retransmit license work without negotiation or authorization."
- "Slingbox is one manifestation of what we assume will be a cascade of similar products that are meant to manipulate our signals in ways that we think will be harmful to the network-affiliate business, if not the law," CBS executive vp Martin Franks said.
- "Even if you take it at face value that it is a one-to-one transmittal device, I don't think it will be very long before some hacker in Cupertino posts on the Web the way to modify it, the way they modify a TiVo, that turns it into something that can be tapped by 50 people," Franks said.
All well and good, but my prediction? No lawsuit against the Slingbox, unless it turns out to be far easier to hack it then I imagine (not that it won't be unhackable, but that it will be easily and readily hacked).
Sure, Hollywood could bring a lawsuit, but the device is simply too expensive, too difficult to use and unlikely to be any sort of threat to their revenue models despite any worries they may tell the press. Furthermore, Hollywood would very likely lose. I'm unaware of any evidence that would lead me to believe an inducement charge would be successful, even to a minimal extent. Winning a contributory lawsuit under the Sony standard would be iffy, at best.
It would also be unwise politically. Hollywood wants to control technology, but they don't want to look like they want to control technology. A lawsuit against a fairly innocuous consumer technology isn't going to look good, particularly on Capital Hill.
Does Grokster threaten innovation? Yes, but then, the Slingbox isn't all that innovative.
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