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
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2007 @ 8:37am

    "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."

    That's a bit like saying that if you buy a book, you're then obligated to read the entire book, in specified order and timeframe. If you flip through it first or skip any pages, or pick up a magazine before you're done you've infringed.

    Get real. This is an awful ruling. The content was bought legally, and it wasn't resold or altered. Their commercials aren't a derivative work, they're a complete separate work that happenes to share an output device. All that flying J did was not direct the signal of the purchased work to their TV sets for a set period of time. If that's infringement, then most of America infringes when the go to the john or make a sandwich during a commercial break.

    Oh yeah, it is a commercial "break" isn't it? It's an intentional interruption in the actual content so that you can do other things. Once upon a time advertisers did little bits of entertainment to entice you to stay right where you were, now they just sue you into watching.

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