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Fox seeks to block new Dish "Hopper" feature

By Jonathan Stempel and Liana B. Baker

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

Fox, a 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 Dish, 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 February 11.

"With its latest motion, Fox continues its war against how Americans watch TV," Dish spokesman John Hall said in an emailed statement on Friday. "Dish has long argued consumers have the right to privately watch shows anywhere, anytime, and it looks forward to continuing its fight."

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.

Fox lost an attempt last November to block the Dish AutoHop feature, but is currently appealing that ruling by Gee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Networks have said the feature violates copyright law and can cut into their revenue from advertisers, who fear some subscribers will fast-forward over their advertisements.

Now Fox is also fighting back against a new service from Dish - an on-the-go app that lets subscribers transfer programs to devices such as Apple iPads, making viewing possible in places lacking Internet access, such as planes and subway stations.

The updated Hopper also uses "sling" technology that redirects live and recorded TV signals to Internet-connected devices.

Currently, all Dish channels ranging from ESPN to premium channels such as HBO or Showtime are available for live viewing on devices other than a TV, depending on the programming package chosen by customers.

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 that cable and satellite companies pay to broadcast stations.

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

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.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Liana B. Baker in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis, Gabriel Debenedetti and Leslie Adler)

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