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Judge stops short of saying it’s OK for DVRs to skip commercials

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It was not enough that ReplayTV stopped making DVRs that can skip commercials or send programs across the internet, but content companies were considering taking legal action against owners of the devices which were sold before these facilities were dropped in June.

Actions against ReplayTV’s previous owners, Sonicblue, have been dropped, but a counter action requesting a declaratory ruling that using the DVR to skip commercials and send shows between devices is fair use, was left needing to be resolved.

ReplayTV changed hands early last year out of Chapter XI and the product is now owned by Digital Networks North America a subsidiary of D&M Holdings, best known for its Denon and Marantz brands of high-end audio and video systems.

As soon as the deal was done, the controversial facilities were dropped. But the request for a
declaratory action was still in process and has finally now reached a conclusion.

The outcome has been that the 28 content companies named in the dispute have agreed not to sue the owners of the devices, and the court hinted that if they hadn’t agreed, then it might well have granted the action, but now it says it doesn’t need to. The declaratory action was brought with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology support group.

Effectively this means that existing clients can jump commercials and they can send their programs over the internet to be seen on another ReplayTV device, but no-one can buy a Replay machine that does this any more.

In the run up to the dispute, a representative of the content companies is on record as saying, “skipping commercials is theft,” which is an interesting, if nutty, point of view. Does that mean making a cup of coffee in the commercial break will soon become illegal?

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Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of events that have happened each week in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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