A federal judge today denied Fox Broadcasting's attempt to block Dish Network's AutoHop feature, which allows customers to skip commercials at the touch of a button.
Fox filed a lawsuit in May to block Dish's transmission of the network's programs in such a way that allows viewers to watch them without commercial interruptions, claiming copyright infringement and breach of contract. Broadcasters worry the technology could destroy the industry since program owners need the advertising revenue to help cover the cost of producing their shows.
However, Judge Dolly Gee for the U.S. District Court for California's Central District rejected Fox's request for a preliminary injunction to disable the technology.
Dish applauded the ruling as a victory for customer choice.
"Dish is gratified that the Court has sided with consumer choice and control by rejecting Fox's efforts to deny our customers access to PrimeTime Anytime and AutoHop," General Counsel Stanton Dodge said in a statement. "The ruling underscores the U.S. Supreme Court's 'Betamax' decision, with the court confirming a consumer's right to enjoy television as they want, when they want, including the reasonable right to skip commercials, if they so choose.
Fox said it was disappointed with the judge's ruling and planned to appeal.
"We are gratified the court found the copies Dish makes for its AutoHop service constitute copyright infringement and breach the parties' contract," the company said in a statement. "Dish is marketing and benefiting from an unauthorized VOD [video on demand] service that illegally copies Fox's valuable programming."
The AutoHop feature, which was introduced earlier this year as part of a high-definition DVR called the Hopper, uses ad-skipping technology that is embedded in the device. Once turned on, the technology will skip all the advertising that has been recorded on TV shows that air over broadcast TV channels.
NBCUniversal quickly followed Fox, filing its own lawsuit against Dish on similar grounds.
Dish responded with a lawsuit of its own, asking a Manhattan federal judge to declare that its AutoHop feature "does not infringe any copyrights that could be claimed by the major networks, and that Dish, while providing the AutoHop feature, remains in compliance with its agreements with the networks."
Dish's complaint claims the AutoHop feature doesn't violate copyright because it does not alter the broadcast signal; viewers have the ability to skip the ads, but they are not deleted.