By Jared Newman | Monday, May 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm
Zediva’s streaming movie service may seem too good to be true, but its legal battle with the movie industry will be no joke.
To defend itself from the Motion Picture Association of America, Zediva has retained a trio of laywers from Durie Tangri, a high-profile intellectual property law firm. The team includes Michael Page, who defended music-sharing service Grokster through to its loss in the Supreme Court; Joe Gratz, who won a case that allowed consumers to sell promotional CDs; and Mark Lemley, a Stanford University professor and IP expert.
The Motion Picture Association of America is bringing its own heavyweights from the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson. The team played a role in bringing down the music-sharing service Limewire, killing the music search engine Seeqpod and nixing RealNetworks’ RealDVD copying software. As PaidContent’s Joe Mullin puts it, this will be “quite the legal battle.”
Zediva streams new releases for cheaper than iTunes, Amazon and other on-demand movie services because it doesn’t pay any licensing fees to Hollywood studios. The service works like Slingbox, renting a dedicated DVD and movie disc to the user and streaming the content to any Flash-equipped web browser for $2 per movie or $10 for a 10-pack. Because Zediva isn’t duplicating any of the content, it argues that there’s nothing illegal about the service. Movie studios obviously disagree.
But whether Zediva stands a chance in court may not be its biggest concern. Immediately after launching in March, Zediva had to cut off new registrations due to overwhelming demand. The service is physically and financially constrained by the number of DVDs and DVD players it can fit in a server room, and letting too many people in would make the act of renting a movie nearly impossible. It also means that Zediva can never offer a huge movie library, due to the logistics of storing so many DVDs.
I would have loved to see if Zediva could make its quirky approach work without also fending off Hollywood lawyers, but that was never going to happen. Instead, the service will become fodder for copyright case law — not as fun to watch, but not a total waste, either.