Zediva had an interesting business model, buy a bunch of DVD players and get a bunch of DVDs for rental. Give users access to a DVD and a player and stream the video to them. Unfortunately, the big bad movie studios didn’t like that and sued them into oblivion.

It was a novel idea and one that seemed to make sense. They were essentially renting the DVD player and the disc to a user so they could watch the film. Didn’t sound like there was anything wrong with it. But the studios saw something wrong; an innovative idea that they felt they didn’t profit enough from. So they got together a tribunal of their pals and litigated, instead of going and talking to Zediva about how they might work together. And now we have Zediva shut down permanently.

What Was Zediva?

Here’s what it says on their site:

A couple of years ago we came up with an idea for the next generation of DVD rentals. It seemed to us logical and evolutionary that if a customer was able to rent and play a DVD in his home, there should be no reason why he or she could not do that from the Internet cloud. After all, you can do that with a DVR, so why not with a DVD player?

It was innovative and in theory seemed legal. Unfortunately, the little guys rarely have the campaign funds to get judges re-elected, and the big guys do. Well, that’s what it feels like in most of these cases. It all really depends on the interpretation of the copyright license and the law.

Why Was Zediva A Threat?

This part isn’t really clear. If you go to Blockbuster you can rent a player and a disc and then take that home and watch the contents on the disc which is streaming the data in a digital format to your display. So why then was Zediva found illegal? Is there some hidden clause in the licensing that says the cable can’t be more than a mile in length?

It’s probably because of a perceived change of media. Even though DVDs and Blu-Rays store digital information which is read by a digital device and sent to a digital display, it’s not considered a digital stream but a physical product. So Zediva was probably charged with altering the media of the content which was then against the copyright license and that was the basis of the judgement.

The other possibility is that the judge saw it as a public performance instead of a private display of the content and that was the basis.

The law reads like this:

to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work…to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

It’s a pretty broad law that encompasses even showing a film on the side of your house for friends in the middle of summer, oops. Of course, it also covers you renting a disc and bringing it home for the family to watch because technically that’s “the public.”

So be careful, the MPAA police might be knocking on your door with a warrant and breaking up your family movie night next when you rent that disc from Netflix, RedBox or Blockbuster. After all, in essence, it’s the same thing.

Why am I writing about it today? This note dropped into my inbox:

Many of you have asked us questions about what’s in the future for Zediva.  Unfortunately, we were not able to respond sooner due to the lawsuit against us. That suit has now been settled. Under its terms we are not allowed to reopen the site. Consequently, we will be forced to sell our remaining assets for whatever we can get. Once that process is completed, we plan to contact everyone with credits about a pro rate distribution or a contribution to charity. Thank you for your patience and your support of Zediva.

Dammit! I still had unused credits there… I’ll just donate them to the cause of moving copyright law forward and making it less anti-progress. With new media should come new laws and it’s way past time for a new one on this stuff with far better language.