I grew up in NY, and used to listen to WNYC quite a bit as a kid. It's the local public radio station. I'm pretty sure my parents still listen to it all the time. Also, I'm a huge fan of WNYC's On The Media
program, which I link to frequently (and, full disclosure, who have had me on as a guest a couple of times). So it's somewhat disappointing to find out that someone at the organization appears to think that timeshifting
. It is not, and the organization is wrong.
Trey Harris is a big fan of WNYC, and a regular pledge drive supporter. Of course, to make his listening easier, he uses a program called Flip4Mac
, which not only lets him listen to the streams, but lets him do some basic time shifting of the streams: pause, rewind, fast-forward, etc. This makes the WNYC feed more valuable and useful for him, and he's shown it by supporting them even more, having recently increased his yearly contribution.
Unfortunately, WNYC thinks he's a crook. A few days ago, the app stopped working with the WNYC feed. Trey contacted them to let them know that there must be a bug that needed fixing... and he was told instead that the app had been blocked because of piracy!
As he notes, the folks making the decisions at WNYC apparently are wholly unfamiliar with the ruling in the Betamax case
that says that time-shifting is legal. It's why VCRs and DVRs are legal. There's no reason why streaming audio shouldn't be legal as well.
After complaining about this publicly, WNYC (actually, the "donor's office") contacted him to clarify. They said that they weren't accusing him of piracy, but that their streaming provider said that app was used for piracy, and that's why it was blocked. Still, they argued that time shifting is "piracy"... but only if done online.
She agreed that if I used a tape recorder, or a digital recorder, to store the over-the-air broadcast, I could listen to it later, pause, rewind, etc. But she said when it went over the Internet it was different. I brought up the TiVo example, and she responded that video-on-demand programs often disallow fast-forwarding. "It's a whole new world," she said.
It's not "a whole new world," in the way she thinks. There is no requirement that a DVR disable things like fast-forwarding. There is certainly no reason for them to disable this use. It's not "piracy." They're broadcasting this free over the air, and this is just someone recording the legitimate stream. All of that is perfectly legal. The only
reason to break the ability to do this is to piss off legitimate listeners.
Of course, even if WNYC officials are totally wrong about this, it's really not that surprising. In a world of copyright maximalism, where we're continually taught about "ownership" of ideas and content, even where it doesn't make sense, some people almost have an instinctual reaction to think that any use like this must be "illegal" somehow. It is not, and it's a shame that WNYC seems to be sticking to this bogus explanation. Of course, I also wonder why WNYC thinks of services like dar.fm, which appears to offer up a bunch of WNYC shows
for time shifting.
The whole thing remains pretty silly, of course. Time shifting is legal. An operation like WNYC shouldn't just be fine with it, it should encourage
it because it makes their shows more valuable, meaning more people will listen -- and more people will be interested in donating and supporting what they do. It's a shame that they clearly haven't thought this through and simply jumped to the false conclusion that this was some sort of evil piracy.