(CN) – Dish Network and three major television networks each filed lawsuits over Dish’s new on-demand service, which lets customers record hours of television and then watch it commercial-free.
CBS, Fox and NBC each filed federal complaints against Dish for copyright infringement Thursday in Los Angeles. In New York, Dish filed its own federal complaint for a ruling that it has not violated the broadcasters’ copyrights.
The networks say Dish’s Primetime Anytime service allows the “unauthorized copy” of almost 100 hours of network programming every eight days. The service is available to Dish customers who rent a Hopper set top box.
“To make matters worse,” Dish customers can use a remote-free function called Auto Hop to skip commercials automatically, according to the complaint filed by Fox Broadcasting Co. and its affiliates.
But Dish Senior Vice President of Programming Dave Shull called the lawsuits “absurd and profoundly anti-consumer.”
“Customers have been skipping commercials since the birth of the remote control, and the networks are arguing against that fact,” Shull said in a statement Friday. “Taken to the extreme, will the networks next ask consumers to stop changing channels?”
Fox on the other hand says Hopper and Auto Hop undercuts “authorized on-demand services” and could “ultimately destroy the advertising-supported ecosystem that provides consumers with the choice to enjoy free over-the-air, varied, high-quality primetime broadcast programming.”
The lawsuit distinguishes between “traditional” DVRs – which allow customers to decide which shows to record – and Primetime Anytime, in which Dish allegedly dictates how shows are recorded and viewed.
Dish characterizes it a bit differently, saying Primetime Anywhere allows viewers to simply skip ads “more efficiently,” according to its complaint.
“The commercials are not erased or deleted,” Dish says. “They remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option. The Dish Auto Hop feature does not alter or modify the broadcast signal.”
But Fox says its Hulu Plus subscribers can already watch network shows with limited commercials, and network shows are also available commercial-free through Amazon and iTunes.
“This puts the lie to Dish’s claim that its unauthorized and unlicensed video-on-demand service is somehow necessary to enhance ‘consumer choice,'” according to Fox’s complaint.
“Rather than use and comply with its license from Fox for video-on-demand content, Dish chose to steal copyrighted programming to make its own version to interfere with legitimate markets and services,” the lawsuit states.
Fox is represented by Richard Stone with Jenner & Block. Robert Rothstein of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp filed for NBC and CBS.
Dish Network LLC is represented by Peter Bicks with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. Its complaint names as defendants American Broadcasting Companies Inc., CBS Corp., Fox Entertainment Group Inc., Fox Television Holdings Inc., Fox Cable Network Services LLC, and NBCUniversal Media LLC.
In an email to Courthouse News, NBCUniversal called Dish’s service “unlawful.”
“Dish simply does not have the authority to tamper with the ads from broadcast replays on a wholesale basis for its own economic and commercial advantage,” NBC said.
In an email, Fox called Dish’s decision to market the new product “surprising.”
“Their wrongheaded decision requires us to take swift action in order to aggressively defend the future of free, over-the-air television,” Fox said.
CBS said in an email that Dish’s “service takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner that is unauthorized and illegal. We believe this is a clear violation of copyright law and we intend to stop it.”