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EPIC Asks Federal Court to Protect PVR Users' Privacy

The Washington Post reported that an electronic civil liberties group has asked a federal court to deny media companies' requests to analyze the activity of SonicBlue ReplayTV 4000 Personal Video Recorders (PVRs). Several media companies had previously pursuaded a magistrate judge in the Central District of California to order SonicBlue to install software on all active ReplayTV 4000s in order to surreptitiously collect statistics to help the media companies demonstrate that the owners of the units were violating U.S. copyright law.

The article says, "...studios and broadcasters claim in a now-consolidated case that ReplayTV 4000's ability to detect and skip past commercials threatens their revenues. In addition, they say the device's broadband connections could be used for unauthorized distribution of television programs and movies...." As a result the magistrate judge ordered SonicBlue to begin collecting "...all available information about what works are copied, stored, viewed with commercial omitted, or distributed to third parties (and) when each of those events took place" within 60 days and to share that information with the media companies as part of the legal discovery process.

As far as we know, this is an unprecedented order in the American legal system, both in the bredth of information sought and in the surreptitiousness methods permitted by the judge. It would be easy to conclude that the judge's order treats the mere use of a ReplayTV 4000 as an indication of likely illegal activity. In our opinion EPIC is right to join SonicBlue in demanding that the original judge's order be vacated.

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