When Dish Network unveiled their new whole-home DVR system earlier this year, the main focus was on the device's ability to record up to six shows at once and allow you to view your recordings on any TV in your home via Joey extender devices. That focus quickly changed when Dish announced the availability of the Auto-Hop technology which would allow users to automatically skip commercials in broadcast network recordings as long as you watched them after 1am the next day.
As you can imagine, this new technology (which really isn't that new) made networks furious and it didn't take long for them to start bringing the lawsuits against Dish. While litigation is still pending, Dish got it's first victory recently though it was only a small one.
Fox had come after Dish quickly in regards to Auto-Hop. They stated that Auto-Hop violated copyright in that it changes the broadcast and removes portions of the show. They threw in breach of contract charges as well. Dish argues that Auto-Hop does neither of these things since it doesn't change the broadcast, it simply skips over part of it.
Again, while it's only a small victory for Dish, Judge Dolly Gee of the US District Court for California's Central District has recently denied Fox's request for an injunction to stop Dish from offering Auto-Hop. The judge went on to state however that the service does violate copyright as well as breaches Dish's contract.
So what does this mean for Dish subscribers and Auto-Hop users? Well, for now, nothing. By denying the injunction, the judge has allowed Dish to continue to offer the service as of this writing. That said, with the other half of the ruling still up in the air and Fox planning an appeal, it's unknown how long you'll be able to continue to skip those pesky commercials.
Since we don't know much about the underlying technology of Auto-Hop, it's hard to say which way this will go in the long run. Obviously the broadcast networks see a huge difference between a consumer having to fast forward past commercials manually and being able to automatically skip over them completely. It's hard to say what the real difference is since both actions mean that viewers don't see the commercials but one can bet that the fight isn't over.
What will be really interesting to see is whether or not Dish can make a case that they're not altering the recordings. Since turning on Auto-Hop is an opt-in function of the Hopper DVR, the commercials are still there and in fact haven't been removed from the file. In that case, it seems that it would be hard to claim copyright infringement. I have no doubt however that Fox and the other networks will find a way.
What this case truly points to is that the television industry is changing as a whole. We've known that for some time but networks, broadcast and cable, are going to have to change with it. Since the days of the VCR people have been looking for a way to skip commercials. As Dish has decided to be first to the table in allowing people to do it automatically, how this case plays out will have implications for MSOs all over the country. Personally, I'd like to see Dish come out on top but only time will tell if Auto-Hop is here to stay or if the broadcast industry can kill it quickly.