As I was watching Despicable Me on free-to-air TV, I was thinking that maybe the next time it runs and Frozen I should set my PVR set top Box to record them.

But then that got me thinking: if I recorded a movie from TV to my PVR (which records as .avi) and transferred that from the PVR to my PC, I would have done the exact same as downloading from the internet, except I would have gained 2 extra things:

  1. I would have skipped the first step in recording it
  2. The download wouldn't be subject to unexplained signal screw-ups causing things such as graphic artifacts, unexplained drop outs of the station or drops in image quality.

So I am wondering how is downloading movies from the Internet different from using PVRs or similar equipment? If there isn't, then why are PVRs allowed to be bought from retail stores?


From Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984).

The sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other articles of commerce, does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes, or, indeed, is merely capable of substantial noninfringing uses.


there is a significant likelihood that substantial numbers of copyright holders who license their works for broadcast on free television would not object to having their broadcast time-shifted by private viewers (i.e., recorded at a time when the VTR owner cannot view the broadcast so that it can be watched at a later time); and (2) that there is no likelihood that time-shifting would cause nonminimal harm to the potential market for, or the value of, respondents' copyrighted works. The VTR's are therefore capable of substantial noninfringing uses. Private, noncommercial time-shifting in the home satisfies this standard of noninfringing uses both because respondents have no right to prevent other copyright holders from authorizing such time-shifting for their programs and because the District Court's findings reveal that even the unauthorized home time-shifting of respondents' programs is legitimate fair use.


we must conclude that this record amply supports the District Court's conclusion that home time-shifting is fair use.

This is distinguishable from downloading movies because in the case of videotape or PVR recording, the copyright owner authorized the broadcast, and private, non-commercial time-shifting at home has been held to be fair use.

When downloading a movie, the copyright owner did not authorize the communication, and copying movies by downloading them from an unauthorized source is not generally considered fair use.

One policy reason why this difference might make sense is that when time-shifting, you are usually paying for the channels, and they are in turn paying the copyright owner for the permission to transmit their work. However, this is only a guess, and not really relevant to your legal question.

  • So a good follow up question would be is it legal to record on netflix for time shift reasons (since their selection of films comes and goes) – MicroMachine Feb 28 '16 at 3:55
  • @fabriced It would violate your contract with Netflix. help.netflix.com/legal/termsofuse – user3851 Feb 28 '16 at 4:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.