May 28th, 2012
Econintersect: Fox, NBC and CBS are suing Dish Network to prevent the use of a device that enables ads in recorded programs to be automatically skipped is illegal. The feature, named “Auto Hop,” is an option that apparently keys off codes provided in the transmitted signal that is provided via satellite to receivers containing DVR (Digital Video Recording) hardware. Another suit has been filed by the same networks plus ABC, PBS and Univision against start-up company Aereo in New York bringing local broadcast TV to the internet. (Details of this second suit are given below.)
Here is a summary of the Aereo case from EFT (Electronic Frontier Foundation):
EFF has urged a federal judge not to let television networks squash an innovative streaming service with a bogus copyright infringement lawsuit. In an amicus brief, EFF and Public Knowledge asked the court to block a preliminary injunction that could prevent Aereo Inc. from establishing a customer base in New York City, arguing that shutting down the service at this early stage sends a dangerous message to other start-up companies working to improve consumers’ TV viewing experience.
Aereo lets users in New York watch local channels by renting their own small antenna located at the Aereo facility, with the signal from the antenna sent over the Internet to that single user. The TV networks argue that this somehow constitutes a public performance and therefore infringes their copyright, even though it would be perfectly legal for someone to install their own antenna and run a wire to a TV set without paying a fee to anyone.
ETF also has provided a summary of how the Auto Hop feature works, using a devise named “Hopper”:
Hopper automatically records eight days' worth of prime time programming on the four major networks that subscribers can play back on request. Beginning a few hours after the broadcast, viewers can choose to watch a program sans ads.
Editorial comment: If the device requires Dish Network to modify the signal provided by the broadcaster, this could be an interesting case. It raises the question of whether the broadcast content once released to the atmosphere has copyright protection on the electronic signal content that has been broadcast. However, if the Dish Network Hopper is using signals already embedded in the broadcast to trigger the auto skip, it is hard to see where there is a case. For example, have you noticed that ads almost always are broadcast with a higher volume than the regular broadcast? That annoying feature could be the basis for triggering an auto skip start and stop. In this editor’s opinion that would simply be poetic justice for those intrusive broadcasters.
Editorial comment #2: There is a reason why the Auto Hop should be banned. It is a national health issue. A major source of exercise will be removed from the daily lives of Auto Hop users: the pushing the fast-forward button on their remote.
- Sulky TV networks claim skipping commercials is illegal (MSN Entertainment News, 27 May 2012)
- TV Networks Say You’re Breaking the Law When You Skip Commercials (Mitch Schultz, Electronic Frontier Foundation, 25 May 2012)
- WNET vs. Aereo (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 23 May 2012)