A brief guide to time shifting
"Time shifting" is a legal term which initially referred to recording made of broadcasts such as television programs via VHS and Betamax tapes. However, in recent years more issues related to time shifting have emerged, including MP3 music files and the distribution of podcasts.
The major legal issue involved in time shifting concerns "fair use" law and the possibility of copyright infringement. These issues were first raised in a dispute between Universal Studios in its capacity as a producer of television programming and Sony in its capacity as the manufacturer of Betamax video recorders. A 1979 Supreme Court case between the two established the foundations of time shifting law. Universal Studios argued that the Betamax video recorder violated its copyright laws by giving consumers the right to reproduce and maintain their own copies of the programming. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony, a ruling which was subsequently challenged, overturned and reversed yet again by the Supreme Court in 1984.
As a result, the right of consumers to engage in time shifting practices for their own convenience has been established. This does not mean that consumers may record broadcasts and resell the video tapes or DVDs of these for commercial profit or gain. Rather, time shifting law simply allows for consumers to record a program and view it at their own convenience.
The introduction of digital video recording (DVR) applications such as Tivo has also been deemed legally acceptable for consumers. However, time shifting law regarding the ability to skip advertisements has not yet been fully clarified. Some providers, such as satellite TV companies, have introduced DVR features allowing consumers to skip over advertising entirely when watching a program which has been recorded to their DVR. The legality of this service, for which an extra fee can be assessed, has been challenged by television broadcasters, who assert that this form of time shifting is a violation of their copyright. As of October 2012, the law in this area remains ambiguous.
In recent years, the emerging popularity of downloadable podcasts that can be played at the convenience of listeners has created a new set of issues related to time shifting. Since such podcasts are placed onto MP3 players, computers or other devices and played at the listener's convenience, the issue of how to charge for advertising and profit from them has been a matter of concern. However, the legality of podcasts and their relationship to time shifting law has not been challenged.
"Time shifting" can also refer to the practice of broadcasting television programming at different times. Some broadcasters offer different feeds for providers across the country tied to each time zone, while other broadcasters only offer one feed. This means, for example, that a television broadcast beginning at 8 pm on the east coast would begin at 5 pm on the west coast. Broadcasters have complete legal discretion in deciding what types of feeds to offer.