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Judge allows consumer voice in DVR court fight

Sun, 08/18/2002 - 8:00pm
Susan Rush

In what could be called a reversal of fortune for five ReplayTV owners, a federal judge has changed her mind and will allow the owners to defend their use of digital video recorders.

U.S. District Court Judge Florence Cooper has ruled that consumer input is needed to determine whether specific uses — such as skipping commercials — is legally permissible. The decision, which is a reversal of Judge Cooper's tentative order last week, denies the entertainment industry's request to dismiss the consumer suit.

In October 2001, a group of Hollywood heavyweights filed a lawsuit alleging that SONICblue's broadband-enabled ReplayTV 4000 digital video recorder violates copyright laws. In the suit, they 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. Walt Disney Co., Viacom Inc. and General Electric filed the suit to prevent SONICblue from shipping the DVR, but despite the lawsuit, SONICblue began shipping the ReplayTV 4000 DVRs a few weeks later.

A few months later, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a suit against the entertainment industry on behalf of five ReplayTV 4000 owners. The battle has been raging ever since.

"We're pleased the court has recognized that the debate over digital video recorders must include the customers who purchase and use the devices," said Robin Gross, a Electronic Frontier Foundation Intellectual Property attorney.

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