DISH AutoHop legal showdown

DISH and the TV networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are going to court on the legality of the introduction of a user-enabled commercial skipping technology branded AutoHop.

DISH wants a declaratory judgment (for which it has filed in New York) while the networks are claiming (in the California court) that the device breaches their copyright by interfering with their content and breaches DISH retransmission contracts with the networks. A similar system called ReplayTV was successfully sued on these grounds by the networks 10 years ago.

DISH’s monthly subscriber fees include significant “retransmission fees” that DISH pays to the major networks. Although broadcasters make their content available for free using sites such as Hulu, they continue to charge retransmission fees to DTH and cable providers.

“Consumers should be able to fairly choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch,” said David Shull, DISH senior vice president of Programming. “Viewers have been skipping commercials since the advent of the remote control; we are giving them a feature they want and that gives them more control. We don’t believe AutoHop will substantially change established consumer behaviour, but we do believe it makes the viewing experience better,” said Shull.

“We respect the business models that drive our industry, but we also embrace the evolving nature of technology and new ideas,” said Shull. “Advances in the ability to measure and target viewership will give the entire industry – including advertisers – the ability to develop better programming, more effective advertising and deliver an overall better experience to the viewer.”

NBCUniversal, said in a statement that the feature was “unlawful.” “Dish simply does not have the authority to tamper with the ads from broadcast replays on a wholesale basis for its own economic and commercial advantage,” the company said.

CBS said that Auto Hop “takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner that is unauthorized and illegal.” But Dish disputes that because the feature preserves the ads within the recording, even though it hides them from sight.

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