Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Last week's Switched On compared two devices that only peripherally compete with each other today, but which represent different approaches to acquiring TV shows. In a fit of serendipity, the arrival of the Apple TV occurred just as Cablevision's remote DVR service (RS-DVR) got the smackdown from a U.S. District Court. I am not a lawyer, but I can understand the rationale. RS-DVR is a video equivalent of the music locker service that MP3.com tried at the beginning of 2000. A CNET article written slightly after that service's launch noted:
MP3.com admits that it has created a database of some 45,000 unlicensed CDs that it serves through its My.MP3.com accounts. But company executives argue that it is toeing the legal line by offering tracks under the "fair use" exemption of the copyright law, which allows consumers to make copies for personal use.
Now, substitute "Cablevision" for "MP3.com, "TV shows" for "45,000 unlicensed CDs," and "RS-DVR service" for "My.MP3.com accounts." Cablevision's legal defense differed from that of MP3.com's, though. Trying to leverage the established legality of DVRs, it claimed to offer the equivalent of a legally protected DVR device, whereas the court found that RS-DVR was a service -- not a device. Consumers lose because RS-DVR could have enabled cheaper deployment not only of basic virtual DVR service but of long-delayed advances such as virtual multi-room DVR.
Which, interestingly, brings us back to Apple TV.