Hopper Skip Function Jumps into Court

When a TV network boss claimed that skipping commercials on a DVR amounted to theft, most people laughed. The humor has faded away this week with a lawsuit against the manufacturers of one DVR that automatically skips the breaks.

CBS, Fox, and NBC are suing Dish Network over its digital video recorder Hopper. The device officially takes its name from the idea of the signal “hopping” around a home so it can be watched on any TV set. However, a recent update adds an “Auto Hop” feature that automatically skips the commercial breaks on recordings from the major networks.

The lawsuit is based on the idea that by removing the break from the video the user sees, Dish Network is effectively creating a new program and thus breaching copyright. Dish Network disputes this, arguing that although the playback skips the relevant section, the broadcast signal and content remains unaltered.

Dish Network has filed a lawsuit in response. It appears to be a request for a declatory judgment, which is simply a court giving a legal opinion, in this case that Dish Network is behaving lawfully in itself. Such a judgment is not strictly binding in itself, but does carry great weight in any related legal proceedings.

There’s some speculation that the dispute goes beyond the technology itself. A media analyst quoted by the BBC suggests Dish Network introduced the feature as a negotiating tactic and might be prepared to remove it in return for the networks charging lower fees to carry their programming.

Arguments over PVRs go back to 2002 when Jamie Kellner, then CEO of Turner Broadcasting, infamously said of ad skipping that “It’s theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you’re going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn’t get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you’re actually stealing the programming.”

Kellner’s view has never caught on with the courts, and most people have taken the view that the ability to skip a commercial break on a DVR is no different to the fast forward button on a video recorder (or, indeed, going to the bathroom during commercials.)

Whether the courts now take the view that making the process automatic, to the point that viewers don’t even have to press a skip button, remains to be seen.


5 Responses to Hopper Skip Function Jumps into Court

  1. It's a vicious circle, advertising pays for shows and people don't want to watch advertising (and generally don't) but they want to watch shows that are paid for mostly by advertising…

    At some point it will collapse and thousands of people will loose their jobs and networks will have to change radically. The part I find difficult is that in the UK you have the BBC that is funded by the TV license paid annually by each person and therefore has no adverts….then why do the subscription based services like Sky have adverts??

    Greed. It will be the downfall of the human race. I like to think we can make it as a human race with some sort of apocalyptic event to force change in us however everyday it seems more and more unlikely.

    A TINY percentage of people actually watch ads…….they (the networks and advertising companies) know this but until networks find a better way of funding themselves we're stuck with them :(

  2. I find it unfortunate that things have gone this direction. This could have been a great opportunity for all the parties to come together to embrace a cool new technology. Personally, I love it because it helps me in cram a few extra episodes of my favorite shows when I get home from a long night working at Dish. This is one of those points in history where people remember what side they stood on a particular topic and I am with the viewing public.

  3. I agree with the networks on this one .. the ads support the network that create great shows for us to watch but on the other hand .. usually ad-supported plans are free ones so maybe cable networks should lower their prices or even make it completely a free model ….

  4. Why don’t CBS, FOX, and NBC execs want consumers to enjoy commercial-free TV? It’s what we want! I’m a customer and employee of Dish, and I think Auto Hop is great because you can easily watch commercial-free TV. A well-known consumer advocacy group, Public Knowledge, agrees that people should have the right to control how they watch TV. They’re taking a stand for consumers by creating a petition that tells CBS, FOX, and NBC media to keep their hands out of your living room and DVR. Sign their petition to keep control of how you watch TV http://bit.ly/KFdn1Q

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