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
    David, 19 Oct 2007 @ 8:59am

    Need to clarify rules!

    It has to be clarified whether advertising on TV is part of our contract with the broadcaster or signal provider. Or, is advertising an added bonus for the content creator to make easy money... which means that we are not obligated to include the advertising with the actual content of the show.

    For example, it is understood that a magazine is usually bought by one person and, most likely, viewed/read by many (in waiting rooms, bathrooms, air plains, etc.... consequently, the magazine owners charge significantly more for from advertisers. We are not obligated to share a magazine (in-fact, you can also argue that it is illegal).

    Similarly, with TV content, I have not contract with signal providers that states that I have to watch ads. It is an added bonus they get from us. If that 'bonus' is not there, they should find other means to generate income... such as charge for content.

    Yes, other options are not as lucrative as advertising. However, just because a method is more lucrative doesn't give you a right to using it!
    Advertiser pay much more for TV ads because they are forced on the viewers (that's us).

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