Just as it was preparing to re-enter the hardware side of the personal video recorder business, SonicBlue's ReplayTV unit was hit with a lawsuit from three television networks, seeking to block the distribution of the new Replay 4000 personal video recorder for alleged copyright infringement issues.
Viacom (CBS), Disney (ABC) and NBC filed their suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claiming potential injury from the ReplayTV 4000's ability to strip out commercials on recorded programming and from its ability to transmit recordings over broadband Internet connections to owners of other Replay 4000 recorders.
The suit states that ReplayTV is "arming their customers with and continuously assisting them in using unprecedented new tools for violating copyright interests in the programming they supply to various TV distribution services."
The networks added that the recorder "deprives the copyright owners of the means by which they are paid for their creative content and thus reduces the incentive to create programming and make it available to the public."
SonicBlue, which is preparing to deliver the ReplayTV 4000 shortly, said it has taken precautions to prevent the misuse of the broadband feature. The recorder will only permit transmission or retransmission of a single recording up to 15 times, and it includes Macrovision copy protection systems that will enable broadcasters to add signals to prevent the recorder from relaying content over the Internet.
The networks were not as concerned by earlier ReplayTV recorders and those of competitors including TiVo, DISH Network and Microsoft's UltimateTV, which all lack broadband capability and do not strip out commercials. However, users can fast forward through commercials in 15 to 30 seconds at a time on most units.
SonicBlue's Go-Video unit also markets a new line of dual-deck VCRs that allow users to edit out commercials on VHS tapes, but only after making a recording of the original tape.
SonicBlue recently purchased the struggling ReplayTV after it had decided to abandon the hardware distribution side of the personal video recorder business, and concentrate on licensing its technology and services to other manufacturers including Panasonic.
SonicBlue, which is growing its digital portfolio to a broad range of devices and platforms, decided to reverse that course with the reintroduction of the ReplayTV 4000.