Time Warner Cable Turns to the Courts in iPad App Fight

UPDATED. Since launching its iPad app a couple of weeks ago, Time Warner Cable (s TWC) has been embroiled in a disagreement with cable networks over whether or not it has the rights required to stream cable live channels to the tablet device. Rather than haggle back and forth with those same programmers and negotiate over rights, the cable operator is taking its case to court.

Time Warner Cable is seeking a declaratory judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asking the court to uphold what it believes are rights to distribute live video feeds not just to TVs but to any screen in the home, including iPads and other so-called “mobile” devices. If the court finds in its favor, the resolution could go a long way toward clearing up some of the issues that remain between cable programmers and their distributors over streaming iPad apps.

In a blog post today, Time Warner Cable Director of Digital Communications Jeff Simmermon wrote:

“We’re at an impasse with a handful of network owners, and we need an impartial third party to referee the situation and confirm that our interpretation is correct. We thought the most efficient way to settle this would be to go before a judge and ask for a decision that, while noncombative, would establish the rights that we bargained for.

If we weren’t completely certain that we had the rights to distribute television to our customers’ iPads within their homes, we wouldn’t be asking for the court’s attention. Of course we want our customers to know about this, but we also want to make sure that everyone understands that this is not combat. Destruction and resolution are two very different things, something that gets overlooked a lot in public these days.”

The lawsuit comes after Time Warner Cable released its iPad app with more than 30 live channels, only to pull about a third of the cable networks from the application after receiving complaints from Fox, (s NWS) Viacom (s VIA) and Discovery. (s DISCA) Despite the loss of content, the app continues to be popular, with more than 300,000 downloads since launch.

Time Warner Cable isn’t the only provider to make live programming available through a mobile app: Cablevision released its own streaming app over the weekend, which is even more ambitious, by giving subscribers access to more than 300 live channels. Meanwhile, Comcast (s CMCSA) and Verizon have also asserted interest in rolling out their own apps to provide live programming on iPads and other tablet devices.

Update: Viacom has filed its own complaint against Time Warner Cable and has issued the following statement:

“Viacom has always negotiated rights to distribute our content based on specific technologies and devices to ensure that the unique business issues, such as security, product quality and audience measurement, are properly addressed. Instead of addressing these issues, Time Warner Cable simply launched the product without a license to distribute our programming through an iPad app. They blatantly grabbed the rights that their competitors have negotiated in good faith to obtain. Time Warner Cable removed our programming from this service only when they were threatened with a lawsuit and, now, it is asking the Court to declare their brazen acts lawful. Regrettably, all of this has compelled us to file a suit of our own – as Time Warner Cable refuses to even discuss the business issues. With $5.2 billion in cash from operations last year, Time Warner Cable can certainly afford to provide our programming through this new broadband service without passing along any additional costs to its customers.”