May 24, 2012 1:50pm PT by Matthew Belloni
Fox, CBS, NBC Sue Dish Network Over AutoHop Ad-Skipper
Fox, CBS and NBCUniversal separately have sued Dish Network over its new AutoHop service, which allows consumers to skip television ads. At the same time, Dish has filed its own lawsuit against all four broadcast networks seeking a declaration as to the legality of its new service.
Fox issued the following statement Thursday: "We were given no choice but to file suit against one of our largest distributors, Dish Network, because of their surprising move to market a product with the clear goal of violating copyrights and destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem. Their wrongheaded decision requires us to take swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television."
The Fox suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of Fox Broadcasting, 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and Fox Television Holdings, accused Dish of copyright infringement and breach of contract.
The NBCUniversal suit, also filed in L.A. federal court on behalf of NBC Studios, Universal Network Television, Open 4 Business Productions and NBC Universal Media, claims copyright infringement and inducement of copyright infringement.
NBCU Issued the following statement: "NBC has filed suit against this unlawful service in order to keep over-the-air broadcast television a strong competitor. Advertising generates the revenue that makes it possible for local broadcast stations and national broadcast networks to pay for the creation of the news, sports and entertainment programming that are the hallmark of American broadcasting. 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."
CBS also issued a statement Thursday: “This service takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner that is unauthorized and illegal. We believe this is a clear violation of copyright law and we intend to stop it.”
The Dish suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, asks for a declaratory judgment of whether the ad-skipping technology complies with copyright law. “Consumers should be able to fairly choose for themselves what they do and do not want to watch,” Dish senior vp programming David Shull 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 argues that Dish's new PrimeTime Anytime service "makes an unauthorized copy of the entire primetime broadcast schedule for all four major networks every night" and then enables customers to watch the content without commercials using the Auto Hop technology, which is different from traditional fast-forwarding DVRs in that it skips ads entirely."
Fox also argues that Dish's Sling Adapter service "redistributes and streams Fox's programming over the Internet in violation of copyright law and Dish's agreements with Fox. In doing so, it competes unfairly with licensed providers such as iTunes and Amazon."
If not stopped, Fox argues, Dish "will ultimately destroy the advertising-supported ecosystem that provides consumers with the choice to enjoy free, over-the-air, varied, high-quality primetime broadcast programming."
The move is not unexpected. AutoHop (and its ability to completely skip commercials) was the talk of the TV upfront presentations earlier this month, with CBS' Les Moonves calling the service "illegal"and NBC's Ted Harbert lashing out at Dish for introducing the service. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week that Dish introduced the service without telling Hollywood executives. The industry felt blindsided, with lawyers for the networks immediately strategizing about how to respond. The Fox and NBC lawsuits could be the first of many.
Fox is repped by a team from L.A.'s Jenner & Block. NBCU and CBS are repped by a team from L.A.'s Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. Dish is repped by New York's Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.