Streaming media are multimedia — either audio or video — that reach the end-user in a continuous delivery stream, rather than as a one-shot digital download that is stored on the user's system. While a downloaded file cannot be accessed and played until the download is complete, streaming media plays as it is transferred. While a download remains on the end-users hard drive, streaming media is designed to be like a public performance in that there is no trace left behind.
Depending on the source and the utilities the end-user has available, it may be possible to save streaming media. In fact, the "right" to save streaming media is hotly debated. Some people believe that streaming video should be available for direct capture in all cases. Depending on the license, it may not be legal to do so. Therefore, one should save streaming media according to the manufacturer’s instructions and in accordance with the media license, should it be permitted, or not at all. Since in most cases it is not allowed, in most cases, no attempt should be made to save streaming media.
The international law covering information technology copyright is the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty (WIPO Copyright Treaty) passed in 1996. It was implemented by means of different acts, for example, Decision 2000/278/EC is the European Community's Act approving the treaty. In the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides some of the law that covers streaming media. In creating the act, the fact that a buffer copy of the material being streamed was made was considered. It was decided that its transient existence meant that it could not be exploited and that it should therefore be allowed.
DMCA also protects streaming multimedia from being saved in certain instances. In section 1201, DMCA prohibits circumventing copyright protection systems that are meant to control access to a protected work. It provides a list of types of behavior that qualify as circumventing, including bypassing, removing, deactivating, or impairing a technological measure, among other approaches. DMCA implicitly recognizes that the attempts to protect a work may be foiled by those who are set on gaining access.
When an end-user attempts to save streaming media in order to circumvent the license terms, nothing may immediately happen to prevent this, but that doesn’t make it legal. For example, prior to 28 January 2009, Replay Media Catcher was able to record certain streaming media by circumventing Adobe® Secure RTMP Measures. This was in violation of the Adobe license, but it could be done, nevertheless. However, on that day, Applian, makers of Replay Media Capture, resolved a dispute with Adobe by agreeing to cease circumventing the Secure RTMP Measures.
The Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002 (TEACH Act) gives wide-ranging freedom to educators to use copyrighted materials in distance learning, as well as in face-to-face classrooms. However, the rights secured by the TEACH Act do not validate saving streaming media in disregard of DMCA.