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Dish Network Countersues TV Networks Over Ad-Blackout System

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Hoping to get out from under a copyright suit, Dish Network (DISH) filed its own suit Friday in the Southern District of New York, Bloomberg reports. Fox News (NWS) was first to complain formally in Los Angeles district court Thursday about Dish's AutoHop feature, with CBS (CBS) and NBC (CMSCA) quick to pile on. For the time being, ABC (DIS) is still on the sidelines.

AutoHop, like a DVR, allows viewers to skip over commercials when they watch a network show at least one day after it's aired. Unlike a DVR, the tech actually blacks out the commercials so that, at least theoretically, even someone who wanted to see the commercials for some reason would not.

“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." David Shull, Dish senior vice president of programming, said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We don’t believe AutoHop will substantially change established consumer behavior, but we do believe it makes the viewing experience better."

Live broadcast commercials aren't affected by AutoHop; neither are commercial-ridden shows from cable networks.

Dish has named all four networks in its suit, hoping to get a judge's blanket ruling that AutoHop does not infringe the networks' copyrights as they claim.

Fox's statement supporting its suit noted:

“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 networks have been down this road before with tech makers who tried to interfere with commercials. In 2001, all four networks sued SONICblue, which at the time was the marketer of ReplayTV, a device that was meant to compete directly with TiVo (TIVO). ReplayTV allowed viewers to record shows and autoskip over commercials, at the time a radical concept, as well as to send copies of TV shows to friends with the same technology using "SendShow."

The networks seemed to have something of case, at least for the "SendShow" technology, but before a judge could rule either way, SONICblue declared bankruptcy and sold off ReplayTV, minus the offending technology; eventually it wound up in DirecTV's (DTV) hands.
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