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Judge must decide on fair use

People in Maryland who are old enough to remember Sony Betamax may also know that the prefix "beta" came to be used as a term to describe systems put into actual use in a preliminary manner so that developers could learn about real world problems in order to refine and improve a product. A landmark Supreme Court ruling involving Betamax may turn out to be a beta case for a current copyright infringement suit.

An attorney for Dish Network cited a 1984 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a hearing before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Dish Network is involved in business litigation with Fox Broadcasting Company, which has sued Dish for copyright infringement because it provides subscribers a service that allows them to view Fox's programs without having to see advertisements. The 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that Betamax did not violate copyrights by making it possible for viewers to record television programs and fast forward through the commercials.

Like those who sued Betamax, Fox is worried about losing advertising revenue. If Dish subscribers can view Fox programs without having to see the commercials, sponsors may negotiate lower advertising rates. The case will be decided on how the judge interprets the fair use doctrine in the case. Dish Network has to copy the programs in order to show them without the advertisements. Fox argues that Dish offers a video on demand service, while Dish argues that the service is more like a digital video recorder service.

Anyone who wishes to offer a new service that uses existing content, or anyone who believes that use of their content constitutes an infringement, should speak with an attorney. The attorney can discuss the fair use doctrine and other principles of intellectual property.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek , "Dish Wins Tentative Ruling Over Fox in AutoHop Litigation", Edvard Pettersson , October 18, 2014

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