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There's a piece of software called "Plex" that basically lets you operate your own private streaming service. You load it up with music and video files, and then you can connect to it from your phone or TV or laptop and play them back.

As I understand it, it is common to set one of these up, fill it with your own legitimately purchased media without doing any illegal circumvention of effective copy-protection measures, and then not only use it yourself but also hand out logins to your housemates, immediate family, extended family, friends and lovers, and so on.

Assuming that these streams to your buddies are all private, rather than public, performances, and that you only actually make one "copy" of your media (which you put onto your server much like you would put a legitimate copy from a CD onto your iPod), does one need any sort of special license to do this? Or is it legal to do with media you just buy at the store?

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  • I dispute the part about "without doing any illegal circumvention of effective copy-protection measures". In order to put the media on the server, you had to make a copy of it, which almost certainly involved defeating any copy-protection mechanisms. Where did the media originate? DVD? a streaming service like Netflix? A torrent site???
    – abelenky
    Feb 6 at 19:19
  • @abelenky One could put the media on the server with no circumvention. If the server had a DVD drive that would allow it for example. I suspect that creating the stream will be making a copy however. I wonder if it would be legal for you to watch such a stream remotely, never mind a friend.
    – User65535
    Feb 6 at 19:30
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    @abelenky It's easy for CDs: those aren't encrypted at all. For DVDs, some are published without CSS, and even CSS DVDs on players operating as designed will I think let you record the analog outputs at the corresponding reduced quality.
    – interfect
    Feb 6 at 19:58
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  • @abelenky That right there is a bit of a grey area... Judges have said that consumers have a right to copy a DVD for their own use—say, for backing it up to another disk or perhaps watching it on another device, such as an iPod. That's the same "fair use" rule that made it legal to tape television shows for watching later, perhaps on a different TV. Its the tools that one needs to use to circumvent those protections that are illegal.
    – Questor
    Feb 6 at 21:58

2 Answers 2

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This is one of those "are kitchen knives illegal since they can be used to kill people" questions.

Legally, handing out logins to your private streaming service is no different from simply sharing the media files themselves. Either way, your friends pull down a copy of the media. When streaming, the copy of each frame may be immediately deleted once it's been played, but that does not nullify the fact that a copy was made.

(Popular streaming services break no laws by facilitating such "copies" because they are licensed to do it, and the copyright holders are happy with such licensing precisely because the subscriber's copy of each frame is immediately deleted upon appearing on the screen.)

That said, the piece of software in question is as much illegal as a kitchen knife (the legality of using which depends on what kind of flesh you cut with it). What matters is just what media you share and with whom. So long as you can legally share the original files with someone, you equally can do it using Plex. Likewise, if you can't share the files, you can't do it with Plex either.

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  • I am sure you are right, but if I read the OP correctly they are saying that your private streaming service is more like you and your friends watching it on one TV except in different places, so the streaming service is a private performance rather than making a copy. You may want to address that specifically.
    – User65535
    Feb 7 at 23:27
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    @User65535 I don't read the OP that way. The question talks about handing out logins to friends etc. which can be used anywhere anytime to watch any movie available on the server. It's not like the OP is setting up a certain time at which (and only at which) the friends can connect and watch a specific movie of the OP's choice.
    – Greendrake
    Feb 7 at 23:59
  • @Greendrake do you have a citation for streaming something over the Internet constituting making a "copy" of the work (as opposed to "making available" or being a performance) when the work as a whole is not in fact stored at the other end? I remember some case law about this question for satellite radio broadcasts that I recall going the other way and saying digital satellite broadcasting does not create copies, but I'm having trouble digging it up again.
    – interfect
    Feb 9 at 23:49
  • @interfect I see it analogous to browser caching which is found to be copying but fair use.
    – Greendrake
    Feb 9 at 23:56
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Sometimes

Format shifting for private use is allowed under copyright law since 2007.

There are restrictions: the owner must make the copy, only one copy in each format is allowed (which makes cloud storage problematic), for cinematographic works, you cannot copy digital works (so you must make your copy from an analog tape, not a DVD or Blue Ray), and replaying is only allowed on devices owned by the copyright holder.

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