If the entertainment industry has its way, DVRs won't ever become a mass-market item. The industry fears the effect that DVRs will have on the way people watch television, especially with regards to digital piracy and lost advertising revenue. And so, in October 2001, a consortium of industry heavyweights, including Viacom ( VIA), Disney ( DIS) and General Electric's ( GE) NBC, filed a lawsuit against SonicBlue, maker of ReplayTV. At issue is the company's ReplayTV 4000 DVR unit, which allows users to share digitally recorded files and skip commercials automatically. "Copying programming for playback with defendant's auto-skip feature effectively circumvents the means of payment to copyright owners for the programming being viewed," the suit said. "
ReplayTV thus constitutes copyright infringement." The legal battles are heating up. In December 2001, SonicBlue and TiVo filed a countersuit against the entertainment industry. Less than a month ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to protecting digital civil liberties, sued entertainment companies to protect the interests of DVR consumers. "Hollywood is trying to stick as many fingers in the dike as they can to hold this technology back as long as possible," says Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's a delay tactic." Lawsuits may make life more difficult for DVR makers, but few believe that the courts will move to block the spread of technology and reverse its 1984 ruling that legalized VCR use, which entertainment companies wanted banned because of copyright issues. "This is just an extension of what we have with VCRs," says Badding. "They're going to have a hard time getting the courts to believe them."