It’s Not the ‘Schmucks, ‘It’s the ‘Piracy’

     CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CN) — It wasn’t the talk show host’s tweets calling DISH Network “schmucks” that led to the libel complaint, it was the tweet that accused it of “pirating” his show “without paying.”
     Christopher Parente is co-host of the Fox31 Denver TV show “Everyday.” Fox31 is owned and operated by Tribune Media Co., DISH says in its lawsuit against Parente, who is the only defendant.
     In its June 24 complaint in Douglas County Court, DISH says its contract with Tribune expired on June 12, whereupon DISH lost the right to distribute Tribune programs, including “Everyday.”
     DISH does not own most of the content it distributes. Until the contract expired, it says, it “paid Tribune tens of millions of dollars per year” for the right to distribute Tribune programs to DISH subscribers, “including defendant Parente’s ‘Everyday’ show.”
     Parente claims he has 10,200 followers on his Twitter account, @chrisparente, according to the complaint. His tweets are available to anyone on the Internet, not just his followers.
     On June 21, DISH says, “In one such tweet, defendant Parente asserted that the ‘schmucks’ at DISH ‘put profit over people.’ In other tweets, he referred to ‘the nimrods’ at DISH, that DISH ‘stinks’ and that DISH ‘screws over’ people.”
     At 1:26 p.m. that day, DISH says, “Parente published the following false statements on his Twitter account to his over 10,000 followers and to millions of other Internet users: ‘Dish has been pirating their [Tribune Broadcasting’s] signal for years without paying.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
     That statement was retweeted, DISH says.
     (On Thursday morning, none of the June 21 tweets on Parente’s Twitter site, cited above, remained posted.)
     DISH says in the lawsuit that it’s not the insults, it’s the allegation of theft that defamed it.
     “DISH has not been pirating or stealing Tribune Programming, it has not been doing so ‘for years,’ and it has not been broadcasting Tribune Programming ‘without paying,'” the complaint states. “At all relevant times through June 12, 2016, DISH had contracts with Tribune for which it paid Tribune tens of millions of dollars per year to distribute Tribune programming. … After the contracts expired on June 12, 2016, DISH stopped distributing or broadcasting Tribune Programming, including defendant Parente’s ‘Everyday’ show.”
     DISH seeks punitive damages for defamation and lost income.
     The lawsuit appears to be part of deeper acrimonious relations between DISH and Tribune. Tribune blacked out DISH customer access to 42 channels the day the contract expired, saying it wanted fair market rates.
     DISH Executive Vice President of Programming Warren Schlichting then said in a statement: “If Tribune is serious in its commitment to accept fair market rates, then there is no downside for them to immediately restore the Tribune channels on DISH while allowing a neutral third-party arbitrator to review DISH’s agreements with other station groups.
     “Regrettably, we can only interpret Tribune’s unwillingness to participate in binding arbitration as an indication that it actually is angling for rates that are above fair market and that it wants to keep the Tribune channels of DISH as long as possible in order to continue to use innocent consumers as pawns to gain negotiating leverage against DISH.” Parente did not respond to a request for comment. DISH’s representative Courtney Culpepper said DISH had “no comment to offer beyond the filing itself.”
     DISH is represented by John McDermott with Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Schreck, in Denver.

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