DISH AutoHop Sparks Network Lawsuits

Published June 29, 2012

DISH Network’s “AutoHop” technology feature has prompted lawsuits from the ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC TV networks. The technology, introduced on May 10, makes it easier for DISH’s satellite-television customers to skip revenue-generating commercials transmitted by the networks.

The networks filed their suit in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on May 24. DISH filed its countersuit in the U.S. District Court in New York on the same day. At issue are copyright infringement and retransmission contracts between the networks and DISH, which the networks assert require the company to carry both programs and the commercials that produce an estimated annual $19 billion of advertising revenue that pays for the networks’ program production.

Mitch Stoltz, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, California, supports DISH’s efforts to supply technology that makes it easier for consumers to do things they already do with their televisions.

“DISH’s DVR simply automates what TV watchers have been able to do for over three decades—record TV shows and watch them later while skipping over the commercials,” he said.

‘Groundswell of Support’
DISH has 14 million subscribers, not all of whom subscribe to the AutoHop feature. The company claims it’s receiving a “groundswell of support” from consumers

DISH has asked for a declaratory judgment stating the AutoHop feature doesn’t infringe any copyrights. Additionally, Dish is asking for a judgment that, while providing the AutoHop feature, it remains in compliance with its agreements with the respective networks.

“The lawsuits filed by the networks essentially argue that ‘consumers must watch commercials.’ We find that proposition absurd and profoundly anti-consumer,” said Dave Shull, DISH senior vice president of programming, in a press statement.

“To win their cases against DISH, the TV networks will need to argue that DISH’s subscribers are actually breaking the law whenever they play back a show without the commercials. That’s an extraordinary claim,” said Stoltz.

DISH already pays retransmission fees to the major networks from its subscriber fees, Shull noted. 

‘A Veto on . . . Innovation’
The New York Federal Court granted a temporary restraining order against Fox, barring the network from pursuing the lawsuit it filed against DISH until the court determines whether the suits filed by the major networks should be enjoined in favor of DISH’s suit in New York.

 “It’s common sense that individuals can decide which portions of a TV show they will watch and which they will skip,” said Stoltz. “And innovative companies should be able to sell technology to automate tasks that individuals can legally do for themselves. Copyright holders shouldn’t hold a veto on that innovation.”

“AutoHop needs to be put in perspective: the majority of our viewers watch their primetime shows live or during the same evening—the time that is most valuable to advertisers. We chose to incorporate AutoHop as a next-day feature and only if enabled by the consumer,” Shull said in the DISH statement.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.