Electronic Design

Is DVR Technology Pushing The Legal Limits?

As technology steamrolls on, it challenges the legal boundaries of copyright protection. We all know what happened to Napster: The music industry threw a lawsuit against the startup for enabling Internet users to freely swap audio recordings through its server. Lawyers swung into action, cease and desist orders flooded the mail, and Napster was forced to change its business model. And now Napster is in bankruptcy. The furor over digital video disks (DVDs) created a similar outcome over the legality of swapping movies via the Internet. Hollywood stopped that too, with Congress passing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Incidentally, the DMCA doesn't specifically address digital video recorders (DVRs).

Could DVRs expect the same? After all, 29 media companies sued SONICblue after it introduced its ReplayTV DVR at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show—right next to TiVo's introduction. The media companies claimed that the resulting TV-show swapping capability over the Internet using ReplayTV was illegal. Strangely, the media companies haven't sued other DVR makers like TiVo and Microsoft (with its Home Media Center). Interestingly, media giants like CBS and NBC are among TiVo's investors. Perhaps media companies have accepted the fact that technology must go forward and that they must adapt to viewers' changing habits. Furthermore, hackers have already made available software that allows DVR users to take compressed copies of TV shows and swap them on the Internet. As they say in Hollywood, the show must go on.

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