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Sonicblue granted stay in "spying" order

The digital video recorder company can hold off monitoring customers' viewing habits--an act it says is tantamount to spying--until its request for a reversal can be heard.

A judge on Wednesday granted digital video recorder company Sonicblue a stay in its request to reverse an order that would force it to monitor the viewing habits of its customers.

Earlier this month, a federal magistrate ordered Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sonicblue to develop software that would allow it to monitor the viewing habits of its ReplayTV set-top box owners. The order also required Sonicblue to hand that information over to the plaintiffs in the copyright-infringement case--a group of entertainment powerhouses including AOL Time Warner, MGM, Disney, and the big three TV networks.

"We're being ordered to spy on our customers; that's the most direct way of looking at it," Ken Potashner, Sonicblue's CEO, said at the time.

On Monday, Sonicblue requested a stay and a reversal of the order. Judge Florence-Marie Cooper granted the stay on Wednesday, deferring the decision on the need for the monitoring software until at least June 3, when Cooper will hear Sonicblue's request for a reversal.

The order, handed down by Central District Court Magistrate Charles F. Eick, has raised the ire of numerous privacy groups, as well as the company, and has once again pushed "digital rights management" into the realm of public debate.

Sonicblue's ReplayTV recorders and digital video recording service allow consumers to record live TV shows, store them on a hard drive, skip commercials, and send TV shows to other ReplayTV owners over the Internet. In their suit, the entertainment companies claim that distributing shows infringes on copyright laws.

Sonicblue called the order "breathtaking and unprecedented" in its request for a reversal. The company objects to the order in part because it requires gathering information on individual users. But the plaintiffs argue that by requiring Sonicblue to track viewers "only by unique identification numbers," the order preserves users' anonymity.

Sonicblue asked that in the event the order was not reversed it be modified so that consumers would be allowed to opt in or out of the data collection. The company also asked that the plaintiffs be allowed access to the data for only a limited time.