Time Warner, Viacom and Cablevision Lock Horns in iPad Battle

Media companies have gone to court over what can and can’t be offered for consumption on the Apple gadget

The topic of iPad apps is becoming increasingly touchy — and that touchiness has nothing to do with fingertips dragging across the screen.

Time Warner Cable, Viacom and Cablevision have become tangled in a battle over content use for the Apple gadget. That debate is now in U.S. District Court in New York, and it's anybody's guess as to whether the issue will be settled anytime soon.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Time Warner and Viacom filed suit against each other this week in an effort to determine whether Time Warner can carry Viacom content on its iPad application, which launched earlier this year.

The legal proceedings come after Time Warner agreed to drop a dozen channels — including Viacom, Fox News, and Discovery — from its app. But aguing that a court order would be necessary to prevent Time Warner from re-adding that programming to its app, Viacom's suit asserts that Time Warner shouldn't be allowed to "unilaterally change the terms of its contractual relationship." The company is also asking for $2 million for each violation against its contract with Time Warner, and other, unspecified damages.

Time Warner, meanwhile, argues that content accessed on its iPad app shouldn't be regarded any differently than what it offers via more traditional methods, and thus they haven't violated their contract with providers.

"We have steadfastly maintained that we have the rights to allow our customers to view this programming in their homes, over our cable systems, without artificial limits on the screens they can use to do so, and we are asking the court to confirm our view," said Time Warner Cable executive vice president and general counsel Marc Lawrence-Apfelbaum in a statement.

Meanwhile, Cablevision, which last week introduced its own iPad app, Optimum, as a rival to that of Time Warner, has also entered the fray — or rather, been dragged into it. Though Cablevision hasn't become officially enmeshed in the legal drama between Time Warner and Viacom, the latter warned Cablevision on Friday that it could be next.

The company — which controls such properties as MTV, BET and Spike — claimed in a statement, "Cablevision has seized distribution rights that Viacom has not granted," Viacom said in an emailed statement. "We will take the steps necessary to ensure that Cablevision respects our rights."

Cablevision, not surprisingly, disagrees, and maintains much the same argument as Time Warner does. A statement issued by the company on Friday asserts:

"Cablevision's agreements with programmers allow us to deliver cable television service to our customers, regardless of how many or what kinds of televisions they have in the home. Programmers are paid based on how many homes we securely connect to their content, not how many televisions display it, so they have never questioned whether a customer has a single TV or a dozen 50-inch flat panels in the home–it's all cable television."

No matter what the outcome ends up being, it's bound to have an impact for viewers, an increasing number of whom are opting to let the TV collect dust and view their programming via other platforms.