Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remeber "Video" Cameras?

Sony Electronics, Inc. v. United States is about the tariff classification of a Sony camera that is capable of capturing still and moving digital images. Just to be clear about what we are discussing, it is the NSC-GC1.


Sony asked Customs for a ruling on the classification of these cameras in 2007.  Customs and Border Protection responded that the cameras should be classified in 8525.80.50 as "television cameras, digital cameras, and video camera recorders." Sony wanted the cameras classified in 8528.80.40 as "digital still image video cameras."

The gist of this case is whether the phrase "digital still image video camera" refers only to cameras capable of recording still images or also includes cameras capable of recording moving images. Customs argued that the phrase refers to the technology used to capture images by electronic means rather than on film. Thus, this tariff item would cover cameras used to capture still (and only still) images by digital means in an electronic format.

Sony, on the other hand, argued that "video" means moving images. Thus, this tariff items covers cameras capable of making digital recordings of still or moving images.

The Court did a lot of analysis of the meaning of video at the time the HTSUS was updated to include this provision. There was some back and forth about how best to interpret the word. In the end (and I am giving this short shrift), the Court found that "video" means moving images. To get there, the Court relied on dictionary definitions both current and from as far back as 1996. Also, the Explanatory Notes use the term video in conjunction with television cameras, which clearly record or transmit moving images. As a result, the Court of International Trade held that "digital still image video cameras" covers cameras capable of recording both still and moving images.

I'm not 100% comfortable with that result. Off the top of my head, it strikes me that this can be resolved without looking beyond the phrase at issue. If this provision were intended to cover both still and moving image capturing cameras, shouldn't there be a word between image and video? It should say "digital still image and video cameras." As is, it looks to me like "digital still image" modifies "video cameras" in such as way as to make explicit that cameras in this heading are all designed to capture still images in a video format, meaning not on film. Otherwise, "still" loses its meaning. In other words, I tend to agree with Customs on this one. That, of course, is absent a minute of research or any opportunity to view the briefs. So, take it for what it is worth. I suppose the Federal Circuit will have an opportunity to sort it out. Clearly, I must be wrong because Sony won and, congratulations to it and its counsel on that.

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