SonicBlue must share ReplayTV data with TV networks, film studios

By Simon Avery, The Associated Press
Saturday May 04, 2002

LOS ANGELES — SonicBlue, the maker of the ReplayTV digital video recorder, will challenge a court order to track the viewing practices of customers and send the data to TV networks and film studios, the company said Friday. 

U.S. District Court Magistrate Charles Eick told SonicBlue to create software within 60 days to monitor every show customers watch, every commercial they skip and any programming they transmit to others via the Internet. 

The Santa Clara-based firm must then turn over the data to networks and studios that are suing SonicBlue for contributing to copyright infringement. 

“This forces us to spy on our customers,” said Ken Potashner, chairman and chief executive of SonicBlue. “We have to give them individual files they could align with identities, which is a blatant violation of privacy.” 

The court order requires SonicBlue to gather information on each viewer and log that data under a unique identification number. 

Laurence Pulgram, SonicBlue’s lawyer, called the order “utterly unprecedented.” 

Digital video recorders store TV programming on a hard drive instead of video tape. SonicBlue’s ReplayTV 4000 also connects to the Internet and allows users to send material over the Web. 

The studios and networks want the user information to determine the extent of what they consider theft of copyrighted programming. 

Potashner said the company will argue that the ruling violates the firm’s confidentiality policy. It has no intention of changing ReplayTV features, he added. 

But a spokeswoman for Walt Disney Co., one plaintiff in the case, said the order is in line with SonicBlue’s existing privacy policy, which advises viewers the firm collects anonymous audience data. 

“Replay’s statement that its users’ privacy rights are being violated is a deliberate and completely misleading characterization of the court’s order,” said Michelle Bergman. “We are simply protecting our copyrighted content and all whose livelihoods are dependent on it.” 

Pulgram conceded the company’s privacy policy allows for collecting data on users. But he said the policy is out of date and “does not represent what we do.” 

SonicBlue only considered the idea of collecting data for its own use, not for third parties, he said. The plan was abandoned after rival Tivo angered privacy advocates with a similar proposal, the lawyer said. 

Potashner said the music industry’s failure to shut down file swapping sites with litigation against Napster shows that innovative technology cannot be suppressed. 

Instead of filing lawsuits, studios and networks should partner with SonicBlue and create new services like targeted advertising and video on demand, he said. 

“In a perverse way, they are driving awareness as to what we can do,” he said.