Apparently, an executive at Time Warner has been shopping around a new idea of fair use that would benefit the television industry. It’s called “transitional fair use.” According to Rick Ellis at All Your TV, the cable companies are looking for ways to justify limiting how long people can view shows recorded with a DVR.

Viewers would be able to record an episode with their DVR, but there would be a time limit on how long it would be available for viewing. The executive was pushing for an expiration date that coincided with the premiere of the next episode. The consensus of the cable executived was that it needed to be between 2-4 weeks.

I’m no lawyer, but I don’t really understand how they can legally define fair use in that way. To learn more about Fair Use, I looked at Stanford University’s excellent Copyright and Fair Use site (which really is worth taking a look at). From their page, Summaries of Fair Use Cases, I found

Fair use. In a lawsuit commonly known as the Betamax case, the Supreme Court determined that the home videotaping of a television broadcast was a fair use. This was one of the few occasions when copying a complete work (for example, a complete episode of the “Kojak” television show) was accepted as a fair use. Evidence indicated that most viewers were “time-shifting” (taping in order to watch later) and not “library-building” (collecting the videos in order to build a video library). Important factors: The Supreme Court reasoned that the “delayed” system of viewing did not deprive the copyright owners of revenue. (Universal City Studios v. Sony Corp., 464 U.S. 417 (1984).)

So how could they prevent legitimate “time shifters” from watching their TiVo-ed shows when they get back from a vacation?

I can’t imagine what effect this would have other than angering viewers anyways. With the new-ish Video On Demand that some cable companies offer and the growth of the market for DVDs of television shows, I guess they see DVRs as potentially taking away their customers. However, I think many of the people who own the DVR technology are likely cable’s most loyal customers (TV fanatics). Instead of curtailing P2P and getting them more customers, restrictions like this will only have the effect of alienating their customers. I know if HBO was involved in pushing this “transitional fair use” idea, I’d drop them from my cable lineup, no matter how much I enjoy Six Feet Under.

Hopefully this idea will disappear just like the idea of suing DVR owners for skipping commercials. PVR Blog often has interesting comments on these issues.

Thanks to commons-blog for bringing this to my attention.