Skip TV Ads, Go to Jail?

The major television networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are arguing that skipping commercials while watching TV shows recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) is illegal. In a lawsuit against Dish Network, the TV networks are charging that a new feature called “AutoHop” on Dish’s new DVR that allows people to skip TV ads “induces” copyright infringement. The networks claim that skipping ads in effect robs the advertisers who pay good money to the networks with the expectation that viewers will be forced to see them. The problem is that the manufacturer of a technology can’t be held liable for inducing copyright infringement unless customers are actually proven to infringe, so the networks must prove to a court that people who simply record a TV show, watch it at a later time and skip the ads are violating federal copyright law. The networks’ suit mimics a previous lawsuit they filed in 2002 against a company called ReplayTV that made a recording device with an automatic commercial-skip feature. The sheer expense of the lawsuit drove ReplayTV out of business before a court could rule on their theory of copyright infringement. Now the networks are leveling same charges against Dish, but Dish is fighting back. It’s filed its own lawsuit against the networks charging them with attempting to stifle its latest innovation. In its counter-suit, Dish points out that its “Hopper” recorder does not erase or delete any commercials, and they “remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option.”

Main source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 25, 2012

  3 comments for “Skip TV Ads, Go to Jail?

  1. I don’t understand why CBS, FOX, & NBC execs don’t want us to enjoy commercial-free TV. I’m a DISH employee – AutoHop is great because you can easily watch commercial-free TV. Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group, is taking a stand for consumers by creating a petition that tells CBS, FOX, & NBC media to keep their hands out of your living room & DVR. Sign their petition to keep control of how you watch TV

  2. You make an interesting point, and it’s an angle I haven’t thought of until now. What I don’t get is do they really think people with DVRs sit through the massive amount of commercials on shows they have pre-recorded? I know I skip them; I’ve been fast forwarding through commercials back before DVRs were around, back in the days of VCRs and dollar a gallon unleaded. When I can catch a show while it’s on I don’t mind watching the commercials, but if I watch something I’ve pre-recorded, why shouldn’t I fast forward through them? And I DVR just about everything because between family obligations, a full time job at Dish, and being on a bowling league, I can’t schedule my life around the shows I want to watch. Skipping the commercials allows me to fit more of those shows into my schedule, and Auto Hop makes it much easier, and pleasant to do it.

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