ReplayTV Users Sue to Skip Commercials

They want their ReplayTV.

Owners of ReplayTV Digital Video Recorders have struck back at media empires
with a lawsuit that asserts they can zap commercials and swap recorded
programs over the Internet without being sued for copyright infringement.

With the help of online free speech group Electronic Frontier Foundation, five owners of
SONICblue’s Replay TV 4000 DVRs filed suit against major media companies
such as AOL Time Warner and NBC Thursday.

In a kind of preemptive legal strike, the suit is asking a federal court in
Los Angeles to declare that the DVRs are legal to use under existing
copyright law. The EEF said the suit was also inspired by a copyright suit brought against ReplayTV as well as media companies’ claims that ReplayTV helps aid “theft”.

The case highlights a widening front in the war between companies making technology that manipulates and transports digital media, and the entertainment industry that produces and profits from the content. Now, the
latest legal maneuver is a signal that the customers who pay to use and
consume the media want their say too.

The complaint says that in prior legal actions brought by the television and
movie companies, owners of the ReplayTV4000 unit have been accused of
“theft” of copyrighted materials because of the unit’s abilities to zap
commercials, “time shift” by recording programs while watching others, and
send the programs digitally to other users.

“These accusations chill Plaintiffs’ fair use rights and adversely impact
their First Amendment rights,” according to the complaint, which names media
groups such as Turner Broadcasting System, Disney Enterprises, Paramount
Pictures, Corporation, NBC, Showtime Networks, and Viacom International, CBS
Worldwide, and AOL Time Warner Entertainment and its Home Box Office unit.

“The studios are using their copyrights as an excuse to control what
individuals do with their own property in the privacy of their own homes,”
said EFF Intellectual Property attorney Robin Gross.

The EFF complaint charges that instead of helping innovation and providing
customers with new media experiences, “Hollywood intends to outlaw a new and
promising technology” and called the trend “just as alarming as the Betamax
case of the 1980s when Hollywood tried to ban VCRs.”

SONICblue, which makes the ReplayTV products, was ordered by a federal judge
last month to track the individual viewing habits of its ReplayTV 4000
customers. The order, which was later reversed, directed SONICblue to
pinpoint the frequency with which movie and television shows are recorded on
the DVRs and then swapped over the Internet.

SONICblue’s ReplayTV 4000 has been the subject of a series of lawsuits filed
on behalf of 28 television and movie studios claiming that the ReplayTV
4000, SONICblue’s most popular digital video recorder to date, enables
copyright infringement by allowing users to send files via a ‘Send Show’
feature over the Internet — redistributing entertainment content without
permission from copyright holders.

The Motion Picture Association of America, meanwhile, called the lawsuit a
“publicity stunt” and said the suit distorts the nature of the entertainment
industry’s existing case against SONICblue and ReplayTV. The MPAA statement
also said that consumers looking to join the argument should take their
complaint to the makers of the device.

The suit also names ReplayTV, Inc. and SONICblue.

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