A federal judge in California has for the second time thrown out a lawsuit that accused UCLA of violating copyright law by streaming videos online for student use.
Judge Consuelo B. Marshall of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles had previously dismissed the lawsuit in October 2011, but she allowed the plaintiffs, Ambrose Video Publishing Inc. and the Association for Information Media and Equipment, a trade group, to file a second amended complaint. In a ruling issued last Tuesday, she rejected the second amended complaint.
The plaintiffs contended that UCLA had acted illegally in copying DVD’s of Shakespeare plays acquired from Ambrose and streaming them online for faculty and students to use in courses. UCLA argued that streaming the videos was permissible under the fair-use principle, which can allow reproductions for teaching, and the Teach Act, which allows limited use of copyrighted materials for online education.
In her ruling, Judge Marshall said the plaintiffs had failed to provide adequate support for their infringement claim. The ruling hinges largely on findings that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the defendants had sovereign or qualified immunity. But in a section of the ruling, Judge Marshall also considered four factors relating to the fair-use arguments.
One of those factors weighed in favor of not finding fair use, she wrote, “because the entire works were streamed, not just portions.” But, on balance, she wrote, “the court concludes that there is, at a minimum, ambiguity as to whether defendants’ streaming constitutes fair use.” She added: “Notably, no court has considered whether streaming videos only to students enrolled in a class constitutes fair use, which reinforces the ambiguity of the law in this area.”
A lawyer for the defendants, who include the UC Regents, said the ruling was “a complete victory.” The lawyer, R. James Slaughter of Keker & Van Nest LLP, told the news service Law360 that the ruling “confirms what UCLA has long believed: that streaming previously purchased video content over its intranet for educational purposes is not a copyright violation or a violation of any contract.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs were not immediately available for comment.
–Adapted from an article by Charles Huckabee in the November 26, 2012 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.