When I passed a security camera in the house i'm currently in, while watching Netflix on my phone, I wondered how legal that would be, considering that you are not allowed to make copies or photos of the content within, but the CCTVs purpose is not to record stuff on Streaming sites.

I was just curious if that would break any law or if this would be one of the rare exceptions where such a thing is legal. I'm also not saying I would put my phone in front of that camera, i'm just talking about copyrighted stuff that's visible on CCTV and recorded by it

2 Answers 2


In this case, it is fair to say that this would not constitute infringement.

When you subscribe to Netflix, you are licensed to make limited, non-commercial household display of its content, which it is in turn licensing from the copyright holders.

There are plenty of close cases that could come up. But an incidental security camera capture of what you are watching, available to no one other than the firm monitoring the security cameras for the purpose of seeing if there are any security breaches or accidents in a home or business, does not cross that line.


A couple of related principles come up: Fair Use and "de minimis". The law in general recognizes that some accidental torts are so slight that the cost of involving the legal system would vastly exceed any reasonable recovery. While statutory minimum damages might theoretically mean that nothing would be "de minimis" (since any copyright infringement, no matter how slight, could justify hundreds of dollars in damages) the real effect is to say that a jury would have to decide whether it would be more just to award the minimum damages, or nothing. A jury that found that a copyright holder was entitled to e.g. $20 in actual damages might be willing to award statutory minimum damages that were an order of magnitude larger, but would likely balk at awarding hundreds of dollars of damages in a case where actual damage would be less than a penny. Since actual damages would be limited to the sum of the financial gain earned by the owner of the CCTV camera as a result of the infringement, plus any financial loss suffered from NetFlix as a consequence, it would seem very unlikely to meet the de minimis threshold.

Even if the case did somehow meet that threshold, a fair use evaluation would likely provide an adequate defense if if the primary focus of the camera feed was not to capture other people's copyrighted material, and the amount and quality of such material was sufficiently slight as to avoid market usurpation. A "de minimis" argument would be better for the defendant, because it would result in a case being thrown out early rather than having to go before a jury; unless the plaintiff can provide some evidence of actual damage that a reasonable jury could regard as non-trivial, a defense's legal costs would be limited to having a lawyer draft a response to the copyright claim demanding such evidence. The fact that a "deminimis" claim fails would not prevent the same issues being raised in a fair-use defense, since the former question is whether a reasonable jury could regard actual damages as non-trivial, while the latter question would be whether an actual jury would in fact do so.

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