Fox seeks to block new Dish 'Hopper' feature

Fri Feb 22, 2013 10:53am EST

* Fox objects to Hopper app, new set-top box

* Licensing, copyright violations alleged

By Jonathan Stempel and Liana B. Baker

Feb 22 (Reuters) - Fox Broadcasting Co has asked a federal judge to stop Dish Network Corp from letting customers who use its controversial Hopper digital video recording device watch its programs on tablets and smartphones.

The unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp on Thursday asked U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles to issue a preliminary injunction against Dish.

If granted, the injunction would also stop the second-largest U.S. satellite TV company from retransmitting live programs to computers and mobile devices via the latest Hopper set-top box. The second version of the Hopper DVR with these new features became available to Dish's 14 million subscribers on Feb. 11.

Representatives of Dish did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Hopper has been controversial because its "AutoHop" feature lets subscribers skip commercials on recorded programs, including prime-time shows from Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC.

Networks have said this violates copyright law and can cut into revenue from advertisers who expect some subscribers to fast-forward over their advertisements.

But now Fox is fighting back against a new service on the device - the on-the-go app that lets subscribers transfer programs to devices such as Apple iPads, and watch them in planes, subway stations and other places lacking Internet access.

The updated Hopper also uses "sling" technology that redirects live and recorded TV signals to Internet-connected devices. Currently, all of Dish's channels ranging from ESPN to premium channels such as HBO or Showtime are available for live viewing on devices other than the TV, depending on the programming package chosen by customers.

But according to Fox, both of these services breached Dish's license agreement with Fox, and Dish's Internet retransmission service infringed Fox's copyrights.

The network said it will be "irreparably harmed" absent a preliminary injunction against Englewood, Colorado-based Dish.

"Fox granted Dish a limited right to retransmit Fox's signal over its satellite system, and Dish grants its subscribers the limited right to watch the programs retransmitted by Dish in their private homes. That is all," Fox said in the filing.

Sling technology was developed by Sling Media Inc, which was bought in 2007 by the company now called EchoStar Corp. The billionaire Charles Ergen controls Dish and EchoStar.

Analysts have said Dish created the Hopper DVR to fight back against retransmission fees, which cable and satellite companies pay to broadcast stations.

A March 22 court hearing is scheduled on Fox's request.

Last Nov. 7, Gee rejected Fox's effort to block the AutoHop feature. Fox has appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case is Fox Broadcasting Co et al v. Dish Network LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 12-04529.