TV networks sue Flying J for bumping TV ads

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Disney, ABC, CBS and Fox Broadcasting are among the major TV programmers and producers who have filed a federal lawsuit against the truck stop chain Flying J. The lawsuit, filed in April in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charges the company with copyright infringement and unfair competition for replacing regularly scheduled TV commercials with ads specifically targeting truckers.

Owner of a nationwide chain of more than 130 truck stops, Flying J provides a truckers’ lounge at each location where drivers can watch television. The company has been charged with selling commercial time to its own network of advertisers and substituting those commercials for the ones scheduled to run by the nationwide TV networks. According to the complaint filed against Flying J, commercials for the American Truckers Legal Association, Speedco, American Tax Relief, Prostacycle, Motorkote and Volvo were among the ads that Flying J substituted for regular programming.

According to a Flying J media kit, advertisers pay $31,250 per month for a 30-second spot to play each hour in every Flying J location that carries a service called Plaza TV. The service is made possible by a device called the 2000 LS, provided by a company called SegOne. According to SegOne literature, the device connects to a television and detects when a commercial break will occur. It then plays the substitute commercials, which last for 30 seconds to two minutes, before returning to the original program. The technology is compatible with direct satellite, cable television and HDTV.

Asked for a comment on the suit, Flying J’s marketing director, Virginia Parker, replied: “Before Flying J entered into agreement to lease SegOne equipment for use in Plaza TV, it considered a legal opinion from a very reputable Southeastern U.S. law firm that opined as to the legality of the SegOne system. SegOne and its legal representatives continue to believe that the plaintiff’s claims are without merit. Flying J is considering all of its options at this time.” Other plaintiffs include Universal Television, Turner Entertainment, Superstation TBS and Spelling Television, which produces such hits as Charmed and 7th Heaven.

Given today’s proliferation of digital media and technology, “I feel that we are going to be seeing more and more lawsuits involving the manipulation of digital content by intermediaries, such as Flying J, and end users,” said John Delaney, an intellectual property lawyer with Morrison & Foerster who specializes in high-tech issues. “Technology has always developed faster than the law’s ability to regulate it. One doesn’t need to be Nostradamus to predict more lawsuits in the future over new technologies that give greater control over digital content to end users.”