August 16, 2002 4:20 PM PDT

Judge hits rewind on ReplayTV case

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In a nod to consumers, a federal court ruled Friday that five ReplayTV owners will be heard in a legal debate over technology that lets TV viewers skip commercials.

U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper granted permission to combine a copyright lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of the device owners and one filed by consumer electronics manufacturer Sonicblue, maker of ReplayTV. With its ruling, the judge denied a motion by the entertainment industry to dismiss the EFF lawsuit.

Sonicblue and the EFF joined together in defense of a suit filed by several major TV networks and movie studios. In its suit, the entertainment industry alleged that Sonicblue's ReplayTV digital video recording (DVR) device infringed on copyrights by permitting consumers to skip commercials and send shows to other ReplayTV owners over the Internet.

The ruling comes as a surprise after comments made earlier this week by the judge indicated that she would not approve the EFF's request to combine the lawsuits.

But according to the judge's ruling, the question of whether the plaintiff's use of ReplayTV's features constitutes fair use will "figure prominently in both" actions.

The plaintiffs in the case include five ReplayTV owners who say they like to skip commercials during shows their children watch and record shows to watch at a later time or on another device.

"I shouldn't have to worry about getting prosecuted, but the Turner Broadcasting CEO tells us that taking a bathroom break is criminal," Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org and one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

 

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