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 @ 12:17pm

    A similar issue came up with web browsers a few years ago related to software (mostly spyware) that would detect banner ads and replace them with other banner ads. These were infringing on the copyrights of the web pages being displayed, but proxy filters that just removed banner ads were not. I seem to remember that argument being made here or possibly on other similar websites.

    The issue isn't skipping or deleting commercials, it's modifying someone else's work without permission. The content, taken as a whole, is a copyrighted work. Skipping or deleting part of it is perfectly legal, but when you replace part of it with your own work, you have now modified someone else's copyrighted work, and that is clearly infringement.

    This has no bearing on whether you can skip commercials when watching tv at home, or even wether or not gas stations can play tv shows with the commercials deleted. The only issue is whether they can display the content in a modified form (by replacing commercials) without permission, and the answer is
    clearly that no, they can't.

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