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CEA Blasts SonicBlue Decision

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is blasting last week's court decision ordering SonicBlue to develop and install new software in consumers' personal video recorders (PVRs) that would collect all information about what shows the users watch, record or send to a select and limited group. SonicBlue would then be forced to provide the information to the studios suing the company for contributing to copyright infringement.

SonicBlue is the subject of a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of 28 television and movie studios claiming that the company's ReplayTV 4000, SonicBlue's most popular digital video recorder to date, allows copyright infringement by allowing users to send files via a 'send show' feature over the Internet and redistribute entertainment content without permission from copyright holders.

Additionally, the suit contends that SonicBlue's video recorder device, and devices like it, ultimately siphon off programming revenue by enabling consumers to skip over television commercials.

"George Orwell must be spinning in his grave. Indeed, movie studios would be wise to remember that Big Brother may work as a 'reality-based' television program -- but not as a rule of law," said Gary Shapiro, president of the Arlington, Va.-based CEA. "The court's order is highly troubling. It forces SonicBlue to violate the trust of its customers and commit an incredible invasion of privacy. By court order, SonicBlue would be forced to spy on consumers and record every 'click' of their remote control, noting how they watch and record television shows. The data collection would include monitoring if the user chooses to skip commercials, watch the same program more than once or delete a program."

A Los Angeles federal magistrate ordered SonicBlue to share its consumer behavior information with the plaintiff and by doing so reveal the patterns of infringement that the technology enables. SonocBlue responded by telling the courts that it does not have this kind of tracking capability and that it would be a serious violation of customer privacy.

In turn, the court ordered SonicBlue to develop and install tracking software on the next shipment of ReplayTV 4000 boxes using the auto-update feature. The court has given SonicBlue 60 days to comply.

"While the order mandates the data be collected on an 'anonymous' basis, it does require SonicBlue to track individual users. Furthermore, it does not allow for users to 'opt out' of the data collection," Shapiro said. "We also are concerned with the concept that a court can impose an order forcing consumer electronics manufacturers' to conduct surveillance activities on consumers. If the order stands, it will have a chilling effect on technological innovation and consumers' buying habits."

Shapiro concluded his remarks with a sharp blast at television and movie studios.

"Through lawsuits, proposed legislation, and the power of their influence, the studios' agenda remains clear: to curtail home recording and fair use rights in the name of preserving intellectual property," he said. "Our industry continues to seek and fight for an approach to copy protection that balances legitimate concerns about piracy and preserving intellectual property with established home recording and fair use rights."