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What is Time-Shifting?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Time-shifting or timeshifting is a practice in which people make copies of media to listen to or view at a later point in time. For example, someone might set a digital video recorder (DVR) to record a television program which will air while the person is at work, so that he or she can watch the program later. This practice has attracted some controversy, including several law suits debating its legality and impact on the broadcasting industry.

One of the most critical court decisions in regard to time-shifting was made in 1984 in the Betamax Decision, in which an American court determined that time-shifting was fair use. The court arrived at the decision on the basis of the assumption that the time-shifted programming would only be used for personal use, and it would not be copied or distributed. As long as someone was accessing programming legally, he or she would be allowed to record it for future viewing.

Television shows are commonly time-shifted by people with busy schedules who do not want to miss an episode, or who want to watch at a different time. People can also time-shift other types of programming on the television or on the radio, recording the programming to whichever storage device they find most suitable. Many devices designed for time-shifting also allow the user to skip over commercials and advertising programming.

Purveyors of media have attempted to argue that time-shifting is harmful to their business, but these arguments are generally discarded in legal venues. Time-shifting has certainly changed the way in which television networks calculate viewing numbers. Historically, the networks could rely on statistics based on who was viewing the program while it aired. Now, networks are forced to consider the numbers of people who watched the show at a different time, using a time-shifting device, and time-shifted numbers can sometimes add up with popular shows.

There are some legal gray areas in the world of time-shifting, and some of these areas appear to have been deliberately left gray due to concerns about enforcement. For example, if someone records every single episode of a show and keeps it, this might cross the line from time-shifting to warehousing the programming. The network could argue that this practice harms sales if the program is released on DVD or home video. However, the only way to prove that someone is warehousing television programming is to conduct a search in his or her home, which could be viewed as a breach of privacy.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By wander — On Dec 11, 2011

@popcorn - The new DVD players have the ability to record at whatever time you program them for, and for whichever channel you need. They are quite similar to the old VCRs you are familiar with.

Another thing you can do is get some time shifting software on your computer. If you have a TV capture card on your computer you can record live shows and play them back anytime you like. It is just as easy as a DVD recorder, but I find that the quality is far superior, and you don't have to pay for storage discs. You can just delete the files when you're done watching them.

By popcorn — On Dec 11, 2011

One of the best things that has even come to television is the ability to do time shifting from one region to another. I hated having to miss my favorite shows just because I wasn't able to be home at a certain time. I think that with the ease of downloading shows online that more cable providers need to be on top of the technology available to give people what they want.

I am wondering though if there is a DVD recorder with time shift recognition? I want to record some of my shows, and be able to program a DVD player so it knows when to switch channels to record off at what time. I remember I used to be able to program my old VCR, so hopefully the DVD recorders work just as easily.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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