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ReplayTV users sue entertainment industry

Thu, 06/06/2002 - 8:00pm
Susan Rush

Some people are passionate about their right to use their digital video recorder to digitally record programing to view content later and skip commercials. So passionate in fact, that an online-civil-liberties group has filed a lawsuit against several entertainment industry giants.

The suit, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of five ReplayTV 4000 owners, asks the court to rule that their use of the ReplayTV device is legal under copyright law.

The suit, which was filed yesterday in federal court in Los Angeles, is in direct response to an earlier suit filed by Walt Disney Co., Viacom Inc. and General Electric to prevent SONICblue from shipping its broadband-enabled ReplayTV 4000 digital video recorder. In their filing, the entertainment companies allege that the DVR violates copyright laws and claim that the ReplayTV 4000's ability to enable users to automatically skip commercials and send digital copies of shows over the Internet to up to 15 other device users will hurt the entertainment companies' advertising and subscription fees revenue streams. Despite the lawsuit, SONICblue began shipping the ReplayTV 4000 DVRs a few weeks later — to date the company has sold about 5,000 set-tops.

Although the entertainment companies have never said they plan to sue users of the box directly, the ReplayTV customers involved in the suit have said they fear that they might be sued for using the device.

"This suit is nothing more than a publicity stunt," said the networks and studios involved in the suit against ReplayTV in a statement distributed by the Motion Picture Association of America. "Our lawsuit is against SONICblue and ReplayTV — not individual users. We have never indicated any desire or intent to bring legal action against individual consumers for use of this device."

"The point we want to make here to Hollywood is, when it comes to television, we're not in their movie theaters, they're in our living room," said EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann.

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