Hopper Copyright Litigation Takes Center Stage at the Consumer Electronics Show

Dish Networks’ Hopper device has spurred a considerable amount of legal controversy. Recently, that controversy made its way into the official award ceremony of the Consumer Electronics Show.

Dish released its Hopper DVR in May 2012.  The Hopper’s “Primetime Anytime” feature automatically records the entire primetime lineups of CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC.  During playback, the “Auto Hop” feature automatically skips commercials.  A few weeks after the announcement, CBS, Fox, and NBC sued Dish in the Central District of California alleging that the Hopper infringes the networks’ copyrights.  The same day, Dish sought a declaration of non-infringement in the Southern District of New York.  (While ABC did not bring its own action, it is a defendant in Dish’s suit.)

The lawsuits appeared on center stage at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (“CES”).  CNET, an electronics review company and a subsidiary of CBS, runs the official award ceremony of CES.  The CNET editors voted to award the Hopper Best of CES.  However, before the ceremony, CBS instructed CNET to remove the Hopper from consideration and revote.  CNET complied and issued the following statement:

The Dish Hopper . . . was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.

The media has criticized CBS’ decision, with one commentator stating that it “suggests a growing influence of CBS’ corporate interests in editorial decisions at its digital news subsidiaries.”  The trade organization that runs CES issued a statement accusing CBS of “forc[ing] [CNET] to lie about and rescind the [Best of CES] award.”  Last week, the organization filed an amicus brief in support of Dish in the Ninth Circuit.  Dish CEO Joe Clayton stated that he was “saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’ heavy-handed tactics.”  Perhaps Dish is not too saddened, however, as it is currently using the controversy to promote the Hopper.

Time will tell whether CBS’ override of CNET will limit damage to its infringement case against Dish.  Since Dish appears to be embracing the controversy, it is likely that CBS’ decision will make its way into the proceedings in some form.

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