Federal Judge Sets Network-DVR Hearing

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The five-month old lawsuit brought by a handful of cable and broadcast content providers attempting to block Cablevision Systems' plan to offer a network digital video recorder service to its customers is entering the next phase, with a series of hearings scheduled this week.

The suit, brought by 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Universal City Studios, Paramount Pictures, Disney Enterprises, and broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC, was originally filed on May 24.

In their suit, the plantiffs claimed that Cablevision's plans to offer a network DVR — a service that would allow customers to record and view programming via a remote server — violates their copyrights.

The studios and programmers argue that the service — dubbed the Remote Server DVR by Cablevision — is essentially a video-on-demand service, and therefore the cable company must reach licensing agreements with the content providers for their programming.

Cablevision counters that the service — which would be solely controlled by the customer — is merely a digital video recorder located at a central site, and therefore does not constitute copyright infringement.

The case could take some time. The parties have already filed more than 50 documents in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, mainly disputing each other's claims.

Depositions made by several Cablevision employees, including executive vice president of product management Patricia Gottesman, were redacted by the court because they included sensitive business information and were not available for public review.

The hearings, scheduled for Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 before U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin, will primarily deal with motions by both sides for summary judgement, or a ruling by the court on the case in lieu of a trial. The first day — Oct. 31 — will mainly involve a technical tutorial, called a Markman hearing, to bring the judge up to speed on the technical aspects of the case, according to Eleanor Lackman, an attorney with New York law firm Arnold & Porter, representing the plaintiffs.

Markman hearings are generally pretrial hearings in patent-infringement cases.

Generally, after hearing the technical arguments on both sides, the judge then makes his decision as to whether to issue a summary judgement, although Lackman said that she did not expect the judge to make a ruling from the bench on the first day.

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