Is the right to record TV in jeopardy?

Is the right to record TV in jeopardy?

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
2 min read
The last few days have seen a flurry of TiVo- and DVR-related stories and statistics, including the launch of special commercials on TiVo, but the most interesting article concerned the impact of those TiVo users not watching commercials. The New York Times piece, entitled "Someone has to pay for TV--but who?," begins by mentioning an earlier patent application by Philips for a TV system that would force watchers to pay for the privilege of skipping ads but ends on an even more ominous note for DVR users. The author brings up the point that the basic right to record copyrighted TV programming, as upheld by the 1984 "fair use" decision in Sony Corporation v. Universal City Studios over Sony's Betamax VCR, is the trickiest legal issue posed by widespread DVR adoption. After reading it, I can't help but wonder whether fair use as described in that decision, which was reached before anyone had any idea that recording TV (and skipping ads) would be so easy and so popular, is in jeopardy today.

It's no secret that DVR owners skip ads. The Times quotes a TiVo executive who says 70 percent of TiVo owners fast-forward through commercials. A study by ad buyer Magna Global cited in TV Week puts the figure at 75 percent; a recent Nielsen release implied 99 percent during certain prime-time favorites; and a more recent study by Jupiter Research says 53 percent of DVR users skip ads and mentions that could amount to $8 billion in lost ad revenue.

Whatever the numbers, it seems certain that DVRs are bad news for advertisers who hope to reach eyeballs. And when entrenched business models such as our glorious "commercials pay for free TV" system start to break down, the companies who lose money usually fight back with lobbying that can turn into legislation. What do you think?

More sources: News.com, eHomeUpgrade, The Wall Street Journal, Lost Remote