The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) won a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Atlanta that would prevent EchoStar from transmitting distant network TV signals to its satellite subscribers.
The ruling, which favored local affiliates of the ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC networks, affirmed an earlier verdict by the 11th Circuit Court that prevented EchoStar from delivering distant network broadcasts — typically from New York and Los Angeles — to areas without local channels by the satellite provider.
The court found that EchoStar's DISH Network illegally provided distant network signals to as many as 630,000 ineligible homes, in violation of copyright protections for TV stations outlined in the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act (SHVIA). However, the ruling also acknowledged that the illegal subscriber totals were several years old and may have changed as EchoStar has migrated viewers over to legal local-into-local TV packages.
The appellate court ruling also appeared to go further than the original ruling in barring distant-network service to all EchoStar subscribers, including those viewers entitled to the service under SHVIA because they cannot receive terrestrial broadcasts over the air in their area.
The court said, “As if the magnitude of its ineligible subscriber base were insufficiently disconcerting, we have found no indication that EchoStar was ever interested in complying with the [SHVIA]. We seem to have discerned a pattern and practice of violating the act in every way imaginable.”
David Rehr, NAB president, said, “This opinion affirms the importance of localism in television, and vindicates an eight-year effort by TV broadcasters to stop EchoStar's blatant and massive abuse of copyright law.”
EchoStar issued a statement saying it was disappointed with the appeals court ruling.
“While consumers are free to choose to read the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle or any other newspaper regardless of where in the United States they live, broadcasters successfully orchestrated passage of special interest legislation which prohibits consumers from watching network channels originating in other markets, except in limited circumstances,” the company said in a statement.
“We believe that we acted within the scope of the law and in the best interest of consumers,” the company said.
EchoStar also pointed out that it has settled with hundreds of TV stations, “including all ABC, NBC and CBS owned-and-operated stations. We were not able to reach settlement agreements with FOX Network or the station groups owning the remaining stations.”
Local broadcasters have challenged distant network services because they take potential viewers away from their services, hurting advertising revenue.