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

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Barrenwaste, 19 Oct 2007 @ 7:52am

    Either way, it doesn't matter, as the companies/networks do not own the intellectual content in question (commercials).

    The commercials are owned by the companies who create them, and I'm fairly certain that Nike is not owned by Fox. Even if it did, once the intellectual property (if commercials can be called intellectual) is bought and paid for it becomes the consumer's choice on whether they use it or not.

    The reason cable networks/cable companies have to play certain commercials at certain times is contractual. They set up a fairly standardized contract where in the network will play commercials at such and such a time for such and such a sum. However, there is nothing they can do to force people to watch these commercials at such and such a time.

    I'm not an expert on copywright law, but I cannot see how the truck stop violated any networks rights by refusing to use intellectual property that they made no contract to use and the network doesn't own.

    I can see why the network wouldn't like the truckstops use of the technology. If the commercials the network contracts to show aren't seen, then the companies that contract with them will cease to do so, thereby reducing most of the networks potential revenue. However, that is not a violation of any law, simply a changing market.

    In the end it seems clear to me that either the judge took a pay off or he got his degrees in law from acme.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.