A major battle is brewing between Dish Network and the broadcast television networks, with lawsuits filed on both coasts amid allegations that the satellite provider’s new on-demand service could destroy television programming as it currently exists.

In March, Dish introduced a new HD DVR called the “Hopper.” Its most prominent – and promoted – feature: PrimeTime Anytime capability, which allows viewers to record high-definition PrimeTime broadcasting on all four networks at once. Using the “Auto Hop” feature, subscribers to the service can then replay the programming and skip all commercials.

Threatened with lawsuits from the broadcast networks, Dish filed a preemptive federal suit in New York, seeking a declaratory judgment that the service does not directly or indirectly violate any copyright owned by the networks.

Consumers can fast-forward through commercials using a traditional DVR, the Colorado-based satellite provider argued, and the PrimeTime Anytime service does not erase or delete commercials, which remain on the recording and can be watched if the customer chooses. “The Dish Auto Hop feature does not alter or modify the broadcast signal,” the company said in its filing.

But three large networks disagreed and filed separate lawsuits in California against Dish, arguing that the Hopper violates its copyright. In one suit, a network distinguished the Hopper from a traditional DVR, which it said is controlled by the consumer. The Hopper, the network argued, actively controls, causes and carries out the unauthorized copying of the networks’ broadcasts, resulting in an adulterated version of the network’s copyrighted broadcast.

In addition to a declaratory judgment that the Hopper violates their copyrights, the networks seek an injunction halting its sale and compensatory and statutory damages under the Copyright Act.

To read the complaint in Dish Network v. ABC, click here.

To read the complaint in Fox v. Dish Network, click here.

Why it matters: “Ultimately, this case is about freedom of consumer choice, individual families’ choice to elect, if they want, to time-shift their television viewing and watch recorded television without commercials,” Dish argued in its complaint. Not surprisingly, one network framed the issues differently in its filing, saying the outcome of the case could end broadcast television and its advertising model as we know it. “This lawsuit is not about Dish enhancing consumer choice,” the network retorted. “By stealing [our] broadcast programming . . . Dish is undermining legitimate consumer choice by undercutting authorized on-demand services and by offering a service that, if not enjoined, will ultimately destroy the advertising-supported ecosystem that provides consumers with the choice to enjoy free over-the-air, varied, high-quality PrimeTime broadcast programming.” Dish won the first round of the battle on May 31 when U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain granted a temporary restraining order halting the California suits. Judge Swain set a hearing for July 2 to consider whether all of the cases should be consolidated.