CEA backs Dish in Hopper copyright lawsuit

The Consumer Electronics Association says "AutoHop" technology is "clearly protected" under a Supreme Court ruling over Betamax recordings.

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Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
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Dish's AutoHop enable screen. Dish

The Consumer Electronics Association, a trade organization that represents 2,000 technology companies, voiced its support today for Dish Network's ad-skipping technology -- the focus of a heated multifront battle between the satellite TV provider and major broadcast television networks, including CBS, the parent company of CNET.

At issue is the legality of Dish's digital video recorder, the Hopper, including its "AutoHop" feature. AutoHop allows customers to record the entire prime-time lineup and automatically skip commercials. Broadcasters argue that the technology threatens to undermine an industry that depends on advertising revenue to help cover the cost of its shows.

The CEA filed an amicus brief yesterday before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals -- along with the Computer and Communications Industry Association and the Internet Association -- arguing: "In sum and substance, the Hopper merely enables the consumer to perform the same actions as the old VCRs or other DVRs, just more efficiently." The brief relies heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Sony v. Universal City Studios, saying that recording TV programming for personal use is legal and the devices that make the recordings are not liable for copyright infringement.

CEA president Gary Shapiro said in a statement that "making television easier to watch is not against the law. It is simply pro-innovation and pro-consumer."

Fox, owned by News Corp., filed the lawsuit that's before the 9th Circuit. CBS Corp., parent company of CNET News, and other media companies are also in litigation against Dish. CBS filed an amended lawsuit earlier this week.

NBC Universal officials have previously argued: "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." We reached out to NBC and CBS and we'll update the story when they comment. A Fox representative declined to comment on the CEA amicus brief.

The CEA runs the International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES. The organization made the Hopper a 2013 Design and Engineering Award Honoree at the show earlier this month. In his statement, Shapiro maintains the Hopper will actually encourage people to watch more TV. He pointed to the tech industry's support of the product, citing CNET's initial decision to award the Hopper the "Best of CES" award. The Hopper was taken out of the competition for CNET's Best of CES owing to a conflict of interest related to CBS' ongoing litigation with Dish over its ad-skipping technology.

So far the court has not prevented Dish from selling the product. In August 2012, Fox filed for a preliminary injunction against the Hopper, but in November, a California district court denied its request to block sales of the device. Fox has appealed that ruling. The court did find that copies of programs Dish makes for its AutoHop function could constitute copyright infringement.

Separate pro-Hopper amicus briefs were filed yesterday by a group of law professors and nonprofit advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge. Referring to the court's refusal to block sales of the Hopper, the advocacy groups said: "Copyright law does not grant copyright holders like Fox absolute control over the use of their works. The district court followed clear precedent and sound policy when it found that users of Dish's Ad Hopper do not trespass on Fox's exclusive rights, that Dish would not likely be liable for its customers' uses, and that Fox suffered no irreparable harm."

The CBS Television Network Affiliates Association and other broadcast affiliates filed their own amicus brief last month. It says: "This service -- particularly if it becomes ingrained and widespread -- threatens to devalue the advertisements on which local television stations rely to produce and acquire quality programming."