TV Nets Sue Dish Over Auto Hop

'We had no choice,' Fox said

You could see the lawsuits coming the second Dish Network announced Auto Hop, a feature that allows viewers to skip commercials entirely when they play a program back on their DVRs. Fox Broadcasting Co., CBS and NBCUniversal filed separate suits today against the satellite TV service, alleging that Dish violated copyrights and breached retransmission consent agreements.

The TV network suits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the central district of California.

In response, Dish counter sued ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in the U.S. District Court for the southern district of New York, asking for a declaratory judgment that Auto Hop does not infringe on copyrights and is in agreement with its carriage contracts.

The networks are seeking injunctive relief and compensatory and statutory damages.

"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 defent the future of free, over-the-air television," Fox said in a statement.

Fox claims its carriage agreement with Dish does not allow Fox to retransmit in real-time Fox broadcast programming, nor does it allow Dish without a license to make its own copy of programming and distribute a commercial-free version.

CBS is making similar claims. "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," CBS said in a statement.

"Dish simply does not have the authority to tamper with the ads from broadcast replays on a wholesale basis for its economic and commerical advantage," added NBCUniversal in a statement. 

Dish argues that consumers should have the choice to zap spots if they want. "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," said David Shull, Dish's senior vp of programming.

Coming to Dish's defense, Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group agreed, slamming the TV networks as technology luddites.

"This is a frontal assault on home recording and fair use," said Gigi Sohn, the president and CEO of Public Knowledge. "Ordinary consumers are in its crosshairs….In filing this suit, Fox and others are challenging long-held consumer rights and going against long-standing consumer practices."