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Free to air TV stations in Australia are attempting to stop the launch of new personal video recorders (PVRs) that allow for the easy removal of TV advertising. However a recent court ruling makes their task difficult.

The removal of the advertising is made easier with the introduction of a free electronic program guides by the TV networks.

Last week the free to air TV networks announced that all networks would freely broadcast a seven day EPG by January 1, 2008. However the Free TV industry wants to control the technology found in PVR devices in an effort to preserve its revenue streams.

Earlier this year the Free TV industry lost a key court case in the Federal Court when a judge ruled that local EPG company Ice TV was not in breach of Channel Nine copyright when it delivered its subscription based EPG service.

The decision has been appealed by Channel Nine however lawyers for Ice TV are confident that the ruling will stand.

Laurie Nolan Marketing Manager at Sharp said, “At the Wednesday 31st October meeting of the Australian Digital Suppliers Industry Forum (ADSIF – part of AEEMA), the issue of PVR technology and the inclusion of technology that allowed the removal of advertising was discussed. Representatives of the Free to Air TV industry want to limit the technology”.

The consumer technology industry is claiming this cannot be controlled as manufacturers are going to be reluctant to do limited runs of PVRs for Australia.

One leading manufacturer said, “The inclusion of  technology that allows 10, 30, 45 and 60 second commercials to automatically be removed is one of the main reasons that a consumer will buy one of the new PVRs”.

The networks have threatened legal action under Australian copyright law, but the loss of the case against Ice TV weakens their legal argument.

To date, PVRs with the exception of the Beyonwiz PVR and selected media centres that use the Ice TV service have been limited in their capability however this could change very quickly in the first quarter of 2008.

The Nine and Ten networks as well as the ABC already broadcast EPG data and Channel Seven’s will commence on January 1 2008.

At the recent ADSIF meeting a letter was read out from Free TV Australia which said that broadcasters are not authorizing the use of the programs listing data in PVRs where ‘ad-skip’ functionality goes beyond a maximum fast forward speed of x60.

However their argument has no merit in light of Justice Annabelle Bennett’s ruling earlier this year in the Federal Court when she ruled in favour of IceTV in its dispute with Channel Nine.

She said at the time that that IceTV in repurposing television program information, was not actually engaged in broadcasting but representing information that was not the copyright of the Nine network.

Free TV’s CEO, Julie Flynn wrote in the letter, “In addition, the PVRs which display the EPG must employ adequate copy protection measures to prevent the redistribution of free-to-air content outside the home or on the internet … Broadcasters reserve their rights subject to the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1968, to take legal action at any time for copyright infringement where program listings are used in contravention of these terms.”

Last week Jim Mr O’Keefe of the ADSIF told SmartHouse that the issue was still under investigation and that another meeting was set to be called to discuss the matter.

O’Keefe told the Sydney Morning Herald this week “These products that are being made for the Australian market are global products and the features and the record functionalities within those products are for global markets, so it’s unlikely that there is going to be any modifications to products on the recording functionality side of PVRs [specifically] for the Australian market,” Mr O’Keefe said.

He said all digital set-top boxes and PVRs sold in the last three years, and many older models, would automatically receive the EPG information.

“It will receive it automatically – there’s nothing you need to do with your PVR or your television set to receive this information,” said Mr O’Keefe.

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