Why aren't things like TiVo illegal?

Two things first: one, I don’t want to start a debate about right or wrong; I’m just asking about legal issues. Two, I’m working from two assumptions here, either of which might be wrong. Feel free to call me a doofus if they are, and I’ll be glad I learned something.

So, the assumptions:

  1. If you watch “traditional”, programmed TV, the rights have been cleared for that particular moment of broadcast. This is different from, say, a DVD that you bought, where you essentially buy the rights for you and your household to watch the content from that particular medium as many times as you want until such time as the medium breaks or becomes obsolete. It follows you are not allowed to record a broadcast, as that would violate the “at the moment of broadcast” proviso.

  2. Things like DVD recorders or VCRs are only legal (see assumption 1) because, technically, you can do non-illegal things with them like copy home movies and… um… well, copy home movies, certainly.

Working on those assumptions, we now come to TiVo or other digital TV recorders. These have only one purpose: recording broadcast TV so you can watch it at a time not defined by the programmers. They don’t do anything else. So (aside from the fact that I couldn’t live without my digital recorder) what am I missing that makes these things legal?

Time shifting is expressly legal. Mr. Rogers testified on its behalf once.

Thanks for the quick reply :). Do I understand this correctly, and are we supposed to erase the recording once we’ve “time shifted”, or can we watch it multiple times?

The Supreme Court rules, in SONY CORPORATION OF AMERICA ET AL. v. UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS, INC., ET AL. (aka the Betamax case) ruled:
In summary, the record and findings of the District Court lead us to two conclusions. First, Sony demonstrated a significant likelihood that substantial numbers of copyright holders who license their works for broadcast on free television would not object to having their broadcasts time-shifted by private viewers. And second, respondents failed to demonstrate that timeshifting would cause any likelihood of nonminimal harm to the potential market for, or the value of, their copyrighted works. The Betamax is, therefore, capable of substantial noninfringing uses. Sony’s sale of such equipment to the general public does not constitute contributory infringement of respondents’ copyrights.*

The Supreme Court ruling does not say that recorded material has to be erased after any period of time. The Tivo, and it’s crappy imitators, are actually less infringing, as they make it difficult to archive and store a large quantity of material. They are generally limited by the size of their hard disks.

DirecTV has started this policy that if you TiVo/DVR one of their ‘Pay Per View’ movies, it will only stay on your recorder for 24 hrs. I haven’t purchased anything recently to test this.

That’s a huge reason not to switch from cable.

I just went to DirecTV’s website to make sure I had the facts right. It’s for movies only and it’s an industrywide policy so it applies to satellite and cable.


Yeah, that’s not something satellite specific.

And that all came about at the behest of the movie studios, who are currently in a sort of mental frenzy following a long period of denial over the fact that their distribution model is changing.

Of all the weird things they’ve done, the 24 hour limit on DVR’d pay-per-view movies is pretty benign. It’s the same as if you do an iTunes/Amazon/Xbox/PlayStation/CinemaNow/ANYTHING rental. If you can pay $4 or 5 for a payperview movie and keep it on your DVR forever, it slightly diminishes the incentive to actually buy a movie…

Though the incentive to actually buy a movie is already pretty damn low. In the last 3 years I believe I have purchased 2 movies. One was TDK on BluRay, the other was Iron Man on BluRay. I don’t watch them, I just wanted those movies to make as much money as possible so I could get infinite sequels.

I actually have watched some bluray rips of both of those movies I downloaded more than I’ve watched my legitimately purchased physical copies, because it’s less of a hassle to select a file on my HTPC than it is to futz around with disks.

The Supreme Court decided a long time ago with the Betamax case (cited above) that it was perfectly legit to record broadcasted content for later viewing. Your assumptions are both incorrect.

As a point of interest, the Nielsen ratings include separate classifications for programs which are watched during live broadcast vs. programs that are DVR’d and watched later. Almost all the networks and cable channels have seen their live ratings dip in recent years as the DVR ratings rise. Broadcasters don’t like this, but they’d still rather get a DVR rating than none at all.

Networks don’t really care, so long as everybody who watches is counted, since they base their advertising rates on how many people watch their shows. The numbers don’t take into account the number of people who skip the commercials, which is probably in everybody’s best interest.

I think I remember TiVo saying a while ago, though, that according to their data more people watch the commercials on pre-recorded shows than skip them.

Nope, that is false. The numbers are separated and advertising is sold based on the “C3” or “C+3” - average commercial minute watched within 3 days of the airdate.


OK, well at least I have a new unit of measure (ACM; average commercial minute) with which to impress strangers and passers-by.

I’ve noticed a change in advertising styles. Many movies and TV shows have TV ads that have an unchanging bar at the top that shows the movie/show logo and release date throughout the ad.

I’ve also heard that ad agencies are now making it a point to watch their ads in fast-forward, and make them look compelling enough at that speed that viewers will stop and watch.

This is all in response to the fact that people with DVRs, on average, watch more TV, even if they skip through commercials.

If they made Tivo illegal, the revolution would be here.

I think you mean the TiVolution.

My MIL has a TiVo/DVD burner combo and doesn’t even use it! I would kill for that. Whenever the hard drive gets full, you can just burn the important stuff to DVD.

Nah. People would just find ways to do it anyways. You pretty much can’t take technology away from people once they’ve gotten it, and expect them to actually give it up.

That might work with VCR’s or people with more primitive DVR’s, but not for those of us with 30-second skip enabled. Skip-skip-skip-skip-skip-skip, show’s back.

Even if you don’t use the 30 sec skip - I FF through at about 3 ‘arrows’ (I was gonna type 3x but if you hit the FF arrow 3 times I think you’re going much faster than 3x). No way you can see anything at that rate. It’s hard enough to recognize when you show restarts.

With the free TiVo Desktop software, you can wirelessly transfer the shows you want to keep over to your computer, where you can burn it with your DVD burning software, or watch them on your computer. You can set it up to automatically transfer shows each time they’re TiVo’d.

Well, not immediately. As soon as it was convenient for the revolutionaries.