Is It Copyright Infringement To Skip Commercials?

from the please-explain dept

A little over a year ago, we wrote about a lawsuit where a bunch of media companies were suing Flying J, the operator of a number of truck stops. Apparently, Flying J had installed a neat little bit of technology that would recognize when commercials came on TV and replace them with its own ads (which Flying J had sold to advertisers who wanted to target truckers). As we said at the time, it actually makes perfectly good sense to show targeted ads to truck drives, and it wasn't entirely clear what argument the broadcasters could make. After all, commercial skipping is legal (even if the entertainment industry doesn't want to believe it). Unfortunately, a judge disagreed and has ruled against Flying J, saying that the act of skipping commercials is copyright infringement. Copyright expert William Patry can't figure out how that could logically make sense. After all, Flying J had paid for a license to show TV at its establishments. So that's legal. If it had just been showing TV without the ad insertion technology (called the segOne) then it would have been perfectly legal. You could even take the argument one step further and say that if Flying J employees turned off the TV whenever commercials were on (or, more realistically, changed the channel), it would still be perfectly legal. The only thing that seems to have somehow made this illegal is the introduction of the automated device, which doesn't even do anything to the broadcasters' content (which, again, has already been paid for). It's just blocking third party content, but that third party isn't a part of the case. So it's difficult to see how this is copyright infringement at all. Instead, it sounds a lot more like felony interference of a business model masquerading as copyright infringement.

Filed Under: commercial skipping, copyright infringement
Companies: flying j, segone


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  1. identicon
    ReverendJoe, 19 Oct 2007 @ 8:16am

    why its copyright infringement

    I don't agree with this, and I'm not privy to any papers or rulings from the case, but I think the judge was able to justify this due to the insanely granular level of control copyright law grants creators in this country.

    Presumably, the plaintiffs argument was that the programs are sold as is, commercials and all, as a single copyrighted work. Any modification of that copyrighted work (such as replacing generic commercials that come with the show with targeted ads), under copyright law, constitutes a "derivative work", based on the original program.

    Presumably, the license Flying J signed with the broadcasters does not include the creation of derivative works, and is therefore considered criminal copyright infringement. And, like everything else with copyright, all rights are reserved by default unless explicitly granted (especially if you disregard fair use .... as the moguls, politicians, lawyers, and judges so often do in this country).

    It sucks, but in a country where the only thing keeping creators / publishers from suing boy scouts for singing around the campfire is bad publicity, does it really surprise anyone that this ruling would come down this way?

    I would say it surprises me that the broadcasters don't just try to deal for more money out of Flying J, but coming from an industry mindset that has INSISTED on continually turning DOWN the huge profits they could make by re-opening the old Napster and charging 5 bucks a month for it, I'm really NOT surprised.

    I always say these people are more interested in CONTROL than MONEY. (But then, I also always figure they are seeking ULTIMATE control so that, once they have it, they can just slowly crank up the economic "heat", until ALL of us evil little thieving frogs are boiled ... )

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