Dish doesn’t have to reimburse customers for blacked out channels, court rules

satellite dishes on a roof

A pay-TV provider isn’t legally required to give a refund or credit to its customers for lost access to programming networks caused by carriage and retransmission suits, a court ruled.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit ruled that Dish Network doesn’t owe two subscribers for lost access to Fox News and Turner-owned channels during carriage disputes that occurred in late-2014 and early-2015. (The ruling was reported on by the National Law Review and picked up by TV Predictions.)

RELATED: Dish and Tribune finally end blackout with retrans deal

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“We are pleased with the court’s decision," Dish said in a brief email reply to FierceCable.

Earlier, a federal judge agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that they deserved a credit, since channels advertised as being available in their satellite TV package were blacked out for several months. 

However, the Appeals Court disagreed with the District Court’s decision that the Dish contract is “illusory” because the channels weren’t available for a finite period. In fact, they were available for most of the agreement, and Dish intended to keep offering them, but the dispute got in the way. The Appeals Court also noted language in Dish’s customer contracts, which says the operator has the right to change its channel lineup at any time. 

Of course, it’s a key ruling not just for Dish, but for all pay-TV operators, who would lose significant leverage in programming disputes if they had to reimburse customers every time a channel went dark. For its part, Dish is still coming off a blackout that kept more than 50 Tribune stations off its program guide for several months during the summer. 

It’s unclear as to whether the plaintiffs will try to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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