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Disney wins round in movie-trailer case

A federal judge orders a film-clips distributor to stop streaming and creating online previews of Walt Disney movies pending a trial.

In a move that could limit companies' ability to show film clips online, a judge has ordered a movie-trailer distributor to stop selling online previews of popular Walt Disney hits.

Saying Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment unit is likely to prevail in its case, Judge Jerome Simandle of the U.S. District Court in New Jersey last week told Video Pipeline to stop streaming clips and creating online previews from Disney's copyrighted works pending a trial.

The case is being monitored by online distributors of videos, who have argued that they are not required to get a copyright owner's permission before showing a small promotional clip of a movie. As the Internet makes it easier for content creators to compete directly with retailers, many legal disputes are arising over who has the rights to sell or promote certain material.

The Buena Vista dispute stems from the company's claims that although Video Pipeline has permission to sell video clips to brick-and-mortar retailers, it is not allowed to disseminate that same content online. Video Pipeline sued for permission to distribute the trailers over the Internet; Buena Vista sued to stop it.

"It is clear to the court that the original agreement between (Buena Vista) and Video Pipeline in 1988 provided for Video Pipeline's use of preview in retailers' in-store display only, not on the Internet," Simandle wrote.

In his ruling, the judge said Video Pipeline could not shield itself under the doctrines of fair use or first sale--which allow people to do things like make personal copies of material after they've purchased it, excerpt a sample of a book for review, or sell a book to a used book store. He said Video Pipeline "is not a retailer who has lawfully purchased copies of (Buena Vista's) product and therefore entitled to the protection afforded by the First Sale Doctrine."

Simandle also disagreed with Video Pipeline's assertions that an injunction would inhibit video retailers' free speech and allow Buena Vista undue control over the retail market.

"This case does not present a situation in which (Buena Vista) is attempting to control competition for an area that is outside the scope of its copyrighted works," the judge wrote.

Simandle also pointed out that some of Video Pipeline's movie depictions were inaccurate. In one humorous example, the judge wrote that a preview presented the Jackie Chan film "Shanghai Noon" as "a foreign-language film with subtitles, the tone of which could be found similar to the drama 'The Last Emperor.'"

"In reality, the movie was an East-meets-West action flick," he said.

Disney praised the ruling, calling it a victory for all copyright holders. "We are gratified that the court recognized that the public interest is served by upholding the rights of copyright owners," the company said in a statement.

Video Pipeline, which can appeal the ruling, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.