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SonicBlue Gets Data Collection Reprieve

15 May, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Personal video recorder (PVR) maker SonicBlue has won a reprieve from a federal court judge, who stayed a subordinate's order that would require the company to write data collection software and gather information on how its customers use the ReplayTV 4000 device.

Judge Florence Marie Cooper ruled today that the 60-day time frame should not take effect until after she hears and rules on arguments in the matter June 3, at which time she could suspend the order entirely. SonicBlue's attorney has argued that a user survey could provide the necessary information without intruding on customer privacy.

"We are pleased that the court has granted this stay and look forward to a full hearing in this matter," said Ken Potashner, president and CEO of SONICblue.

The dispute centers on a discovery order from Central District Court Magistrate Charles F. Eick, who is managing the pretrial fact-finding process in the case filed last October. Eick ordered SonicBlue April 26 to track individual user behavior, attaching a unique identification number to each subscriber. That would make the data user-specific, rather than using the aggregate data that companies typically use to avoid violating users privacy. The order has outraged SonicBlue as well as industry and privacy advocates.

Plaintiffs who sought the information in the case include Time Warner, HBO, Warner Brothers, TBS, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock Entertainment, WB TV, MGM Studios, Orion Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal City Studios, Fox Broadcasting, Paramount Pictures, Disney, NBC, Showtime, United Paramount Network, ABC, Viacom, CBS, Columbia Pictures, Columbia TV and Tristar.

The studios and networks want to bar SonicBlue from marketing its ReplayTV 4000 because of two features: “AutoSkip,” which lets viewers skip commercials, and a broadband port and “Send Show” feature that let viewers record programs and forward them to friends. They sued SonicBlue, seeking a court order barring further sales of the device.

A dozen interested parties including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Consumer Electronics Association have filed friend of the court briefs in the case this week.

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