The menu for Dish Network's AutoHop commercial-skipping feature. (Associated Press )
Dish Networks landed the first punch in its fight against broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC over whether its new ad-skipping feature called AutoHop is legal.
Wednesday, a federal court judge in New York granted Dish Network's request for a temporary restraining order preventing Fox and other networks from trying to advance their claims against the satellite television provider in lawsuits that were separately filed last week in Los Angeles.
Dish, which had filed its own suit hours earlier in New York, asked that the networks be prevented from separately pursuing their litigation in California until U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain decides whether all of the court cases should be consolidated.
Swain scheduled a hearing for July 2 to consider that request.
Dish also asked the judge to slap Fox, the first network to file suit, with a temporary restraining order because the News Corp.-owned network had petitioned the courts for "extraordinary relief" so the case would be heard in California.
"This dispute belongs in New York," Dish said in its filing.
Although ABC has not yet filed suit against Dish, the other networks had hoped the high-stakes showdown would play out in Los Angeles, which falls in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, rather than in the 2nd Circuit in New York. The 9th Circuit has looked more favorably on TV network claims of copyright infringement.
Dish Network, however, was the first to file its suit May 24 -- before the three networks lodged their complaints in Los Angeles. The satellite TV provider, which is based in Englewood, Colo., selected New York, in part, because of a ruling several years ago that could buttress Dish's position that its AutoHop feature does not violate the networks' copyright.
In 2007, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a dispute between cable operator Cablevision Systems and Cartoon Network, owned by Time Warner Inc.
In that case, a group of film and television companies sued the cable provider for copyright infringement over a “remote storage” digital video recorder that allowed customers who did not have a stand-alone device to record shows for later viewing on Cablevision's hardware.
The trial court judge ruled in favor of the studios – and ordered Cablevision to stop operating the system until it obtained a license from the content holders. But the appeals court overruled that decision.
Dish welcomed Swain's action Wednesday.
“We’re pleased that the New York federal court has entered a [temporary restraining order] against Fox until the New York court decides whether the suits filed by Fox, CBS and NBC in California should be enjoined in favor of Dish's suit in New York,” Dish General Counsel R. Stanton Dodge said in a statement. “Dish looks forward to presenting its case and prevailing on the merits.”
Fox, for its part, also released a statement: "We look forward to making our case in court against Dish for copyright infringement and breach of contract."
Dish customers with the device, which rolled out May 10, can record all of the prime-time TV programming on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC for later viewing. Then when a commercial break appears, the screen goes black, and a few seconds later the program returns -- minus the ads. The feature becomes available the day after the programming first airs.
The AutoHop feature is available only to skip commercials in broadcast programming -- not cable network shows.
The outcome of the skirmish could influence what features will be available to consumers on their TV devices, as well as the price they pay for their monthly service.