Judge Denies Disney's Motion to Stop Dish From Distributing Movies for Free

“Toy Story 3”

Dish Network turned 30 years old this year. In celebration, the satellite company chose this February to provide some of its customers with "free" access for one year to seven different Starz channels.

However, neither Starz nor the Hollywood studios that provide the channel with popular movies such as Toy Story 3 and Alice in Wonderland were ready to give Dish Network a birthday cake. Instead, both Starz and Disney filed individual lawsuits that accused Dish of breaching the "pay television" provisions of its contract and committing copyright infringement.

But for now, Dish's gift to its customers continues. On Thursday, a New York judge denied a motion by Disney to enjoin the satellite TV company from distributing the studio's popular movies for free.

The judge's decision follows Dish Network's response last week to Disney's claims.

Dish Network told a New York judge that there could be no copyright infringement because it had licensed Disney's movies from Starz, which in turn had an agreement with Disney's television distributor, Buena Vista Television. Dish Network added that Los Angeles was the proper jurisdiction for Disney's lawsuit, but since it was filed in New York, it should be dismissed because it had proper licenses on the films.

New York District Judge George Daniels hasn't made a ruling on whether to dismiss the case yet, but without written explanation, he has denied Disney's attempts to preliminarily block Dish from offering the studio's movies for free.

A big part of this case figures to take place in a Colorado federal court where separately, Starz is also pursuing the Dish Network over its "free" promotion.

In its complaint filed in early May, Starz says that it regularly makes distribution deals with Disney, Warner Bros., and others, and that those agreements place conditions on Starz's exhibition rights. Specifically, in an effort to encourage DVD sales, Hollywood studios require that its newest and most popular films be limited to a pay, premium tier of cable television.

Starz notes that its affiliate agreements with Dish Network permits the satellite company from time to time to offer its channels as a "free preview," but in such instances, the parties have to execute a written agreement and the length of the free preview has typically been very short.

That case is pending. Starz is also asking for preliminary injunctive relief, but a Colorado judge hasn't yet made a ruling.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner