DISH Network was handed a partial legal victory in a Los Angeles federal court as U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee rejected claims that DISH had infringed program copyrights held by Fox Broadcasting in the operation of DISH’s PrimeTime Anywhere and AutoHop services.  

The decision is said to be the first to apply the legal standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court last June in its ruling against the Aereo television streaming service.  Primetime Anywhere, which allows subscribers to record automatically primetime shows on all four television networks, and AutoHop—which enables users to view recorded programs with the advertisements stripped out—have been targeted by Fox and other broadcasters as a breach of DISH’s license agreements with the broadcast networks and as a violation of broadcaster copyrights.  In a January 12 ruling that was unsealed on Tuesday, Judge Gee drew distinctions between the Aereo case and the case at hand in proclaiming that usage of Primetime Anywhere and AutoHop technologies do not constitute public performances and therefore do not violate copyright laws.  

Explaining that DISH does not “receive programs that have been released to the public and carry them by private channels to additional viewers in the same sense that Aereo did,” Gee concluded there is no copyright issue as “DISH has a license for the analogous initial retransmission of the programming via satellite.”  Once licensed programs are received by DISH subscribers, Gee said subscribers could legally transfer recordings of those programs to mobile devices through the Primetime Anywhere technology because “relying on external servers and equipment to ensure that content travels between those devices . . . does not transform that service into a traditional cable company.”  With respect to AutoHop, Gee maintained that the ability of AutoHop to produce commercial-free copies of programs constitutes “fair use” under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 Betamax decision.  

Gee’s ruling, however, was not a total loss for Fox as Gee decreed that copies of programs used by DISH to test the quality of the AutoHop service violated Fox copyrights.  Gee also agreed with Fox’s claim that AutoHop and Primetime Anywhere transfers to mobile phones and other devices used outside of the home violates the terms of a 2002 carriage agreement between DISH and Fox that limits program copies to private home use.  

Applauding the ruling, DISH executive vice president R. Stanton Dodge told reporters that “consumers are the winners” and promised that DISH “will continue to vigorously defend consumers’ right to choice.”