Englewood, Colo. - The Fox, NBC, and CBS broadcast TV networks made their feelings known about Dish Network's new "Auto Hop" commercial skipping feature by filing lawsuits against the satellite TV provider for violating copyright and retransmission.
filed a pre-emptive suit in New York claiming the networks' threats of litigation was stifling its ability to innovate. Upon announcing The Hopper feature on May 10 and in its legal argument, Dish said the feature was an improvement on the fast forward and 30-second advance system that has long existed in VCRs and earlier versions of its own DVRs.
Dish said the feature is nothing more than an improvement on the video cassette recorder. The Auto Hop feature does not alter the recorded signal in any way and consumers are free to watch commercials in recorded content if they so choose.
At this stage, Auto Hop is designed to work only with the PrimeTime Anytime component offered only in Dish's uber DVR called "The Hopper."
This system automatically records all of the primetime programming of each of the Big Four network affiliates each night and caches them on the hard drive for up to eight days. The Auto Hop feature will only work with programs recorded through the PrimeTime Anytime system.
However, the company has said that it may eventually choose to expand the capability to other recorded content as well.
Dish's lawsuit is seeking a declaratory judgment that it isn't infringing on any copyrights and is in compliance with its agreements with the networks.
"Consumers should be able to fairly choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch," David Shull, Dish senior VP of programming said in a statement. "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."
Fox, NBC and CBS (ABC continues to monitor the situation before taking action) claimed in separate suits filed in California that the Auto Hop service will eliminate advertising, which represents their primary means of revenue generation.
In its legal argument, Dish said: "Even though consumers have had the option, in one form or another, to skip commercials for decades, the major television networks are threatening Dish with litigation to eliminate Auto Hop, a patented technology that allows Dish's paying subscribers to avoid commercials that they might prefer not to watch."
Dish said it has contracts with each of the major networks that authorize Dish to rebroadcast their signals.
"Dish is required to pay the major television networks hundreds of millions of dollars per year in retransmission fees, collected from its subscriber base, for the right to rebroadcast those signals - even though the major television networks provide their content at no charge to television viewers with an over-the-air antenna," Dish's statement said.
Public Knowledge, an advocacy group for fair rights use of content, called out Fox for its actions against the Auto Hop feature.
"It is truly unfortunate for consumers that Fox has filed suit against Dish Network," said Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said in a statement. "That suit charges Dish with copyright violations for the satellite company's DVR which allows consumers to skip commercials, but also against the Sling adapter (formerly Slingbox) which allows consumers to stream their TV signal to a laptop at a different location. This is a frontal assault on home recording and fair use. Ordinary consumers are in its crosshairs, while Fox demands technological stagnation from innovators."