Walt Disney Company Files Suit Against Dish Network on Copyright Violations Claim

Disney Enterprises and Buena Vista Pay Television filed a claim yesterday in Federal Court in New York yesterday against Dish Network claiming that Dish Network has been engaging in ‘unauthorized and unlawful distribution, transmission, copying and public display and/or performance of numerous, highly successful motion pictures owned and licensed by’ Disney.

The complaint specifically names Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, Up ‘and others’ involved in acts of the violation as well as an intent for ‘imminent plans to unlawfully distribute, transmit, copy and publicly display and/or perform such recent hit movies as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Secretariat, and Tangled, among others, all without authorization from Plaintiff.’

At the heart of the complaint is Disney’s agreement with Starz Entertainment which has limited rights to broadcast the films with what Disney calls an ‘express condition’ that Starz operates as a premium service, charging for the right to subscribe to its channel. Disney claims that a recent move by Dish Network to offer the Starz networks free to subscribers through January 2012 is in violation of Disney’s rights under federal law and that Dish did so without consenting either Disney or Starz in the matter. This, according to the complaint, ‘[threatens] the Plaintiff with the specter of continued irreparable harm unless Dish’s actions are preliminarily and permanently enjoined by this Court.’

The complaint goes on to explain the process of ‘windowing’ in which theatrically released films generally go through a chain of command before being accessible to the public in a venue that’s free of any additional charges, a process which Disney is claiming Dish to be jeopardizing by its actions. According to the complaint, after its theatrical run, the industry norm is to first offer the film to hotel video-on-demand and pay-per-view services, followed by home video releases, followed by premium cable networks and lastly, free to viewers. By offering the films free to subscribers via the Starz Networks, Dish is effectively reducing the value of the films as there is less incentive for customers to purchase the rights to see the films otherwise.

Disney is seeking unspecified damages equal to the maximum statutory amount allowed by law for copyright infringement for each airing named by the complaint as well as trebel damages for what they call ‘willful misconduct’ by Dish Network for ignoring cease and desist letters in the past.

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