RecordTV.com may be the next Internet site to face the legal wrath of the content community.
The site, based out of CEO David Simon's house in Los Angeles, allows users to record TV shows from local TV and basic cable offerings in the Los Angeles market and play them back at will on their computers.
Simon launched the site at the end of March to little fanfare, but two weeks ago, Internet news site CNET stumbled across it. Since then, page hits have increased to some 2 million a day-so much traffic, in fact, that Simon has had to temporarily shut the site down to increase server capacity and improve feeds.
The site is likely to face legal action because it allows users in distant markets to download local TV shows as well as record and play for free basic cable programming that subscribers pay to get. "I didn't realize it was so controversial when I did it," Simon says.
"We are trying to do as much due diligence as we can to let people record what they are entitled to," he says. "At the moment, a lot of that responsibility is up to the user."
But that is one of the arguments made by Canadian Web site iCraveTV.com, which last December launched a site to stream 17 live TV feeds from the Toronto market, before a federal court in Pennsylvania stopped the site's activities. Internet sites do not give copyrighted content enough protection when they use only an honor system to keep people from unlawfully taking content, that court found.
Simon says his lawyers have advised him that the site is acting legally because "we are not broadcasting. We are basically a VCR. We work like a VCR, and we act like a VCR."
Simon's lawyers say RecordTV.com is covered by an exemption in the copyright act that allows people to record programs at home, but, he admitted, "it's a matter of when, not if" someone challenges the site. Meanwhile, Simon is meeting with venture capitalists and lawyers to expand his newly popular business.
The National Association of Broadcasters, the Motion Picture Association of American and the National Football League are monitoring the site, but, so far, none has initiated legal action.