Consumers may be excited by the new Auto Hop ad-skipping feature in Dish Network's new DVRs, but it appears the major networks aren't as thrilled. Yesterday, CBS, Fox, and NBCUniversal each filed a lawsuit against the service, claiming it violates copyrights and breaches network transmission agreements.
Dish, however, responded with a lawsuit suit of its own against all four major networks—including ABC—hoping to get its new service declared legal.
Fox fired the first salvo, alleging in a statement that Dish's ad-skipping DVR, called the Hopper, not only violated copyrights but also threatened to destroy "the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem."
Fox also took issue with Dish's PrimeTime Anytime service, which includes the Auto Hop feature: The network called it "a bootleg video-on-demand service. Because PrimeTime Anytime automatically records entire seasons of broadcast prime-time programming, Auto Hop could be used to skip an entire season's worth of commercials. Fox also objects to Dish's use of a Sling adapter to make programs available to its customers via the Web.
Both CBS and NBCUniversal claim the Auto Hop feature violates copyrights, since it tampers with the networks' broadcasts. At stake, they claim, is broadcast TV's traditional business model. It's not yet clear whether ABC, owned by Disney, will also file suit.
As we mentioned when we first wrote about Dish's Auto Hop, the company's argument is that it is simply automating a feature that does what consumers have been doing manually for years. And since Auto Hop doesn't actually delete ads, it's not interfering with the video stream.
In a press statement posted on its website, Dish said it believes that consumers should be able to choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch, according to David Shull, senior vice president of programming at Dish. "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."
Dish filed its suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the ad-skipping technology complies with copyright law.
The move by the networks wasn't exactly unexpected. All three have refused to run Dish ads for its whole-home, ad-skipping Hopper DVR—although, ironically, Dish's own technology would have allowed viewers to skip those ads.
We'll be reporting more on these cases as they evolve. Especially noteworthy is Fox's challenge to the Sling technology, as it would have a major impact on cable and other TV service providers' TV Everywhere initiatives to provide content to their subscribers outside the home.
Dish Sues Networks In Federal Court [Dish press release]
—James K. Willcox