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New York Broadcasters Sue Aereo

Group claims copyright violation

This story originally appeared in TV Technology.

NEW YORK: Several New York broadcasters have banded together to sue Aereo, a new service that intends to distribute live, unlicensed broadcast signals to broadband-enabled mobile devices. WNET, Fox, Univision, Tribune’s CW affiliate, WPIX, and the Public Broadcasting Service have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to stop Aereo, now set to launch in New York March 14.

“Copyright law… does not permit Aereo to appropriate to itself the value of the plaintiffs’ television programming by retransmitting it over the Internet without proper licenses,” the suit states.

Aereo was unveiled two weeks ago by IAC, the digital powerhouse run by former Fox chairman, Barry Diller, who put $20.5 million into the venture. Aereo relies on individual dime-sized antennas to retransmit broadcast signals to laptops, smartphones, tablets and the like.

“Based on information and belief,” the suit alleges Aereo has “one or more facilities” in New York that receive local broadcast programming and encode it for streaming to subscribers.

Subscribers pay $12 a month for their own antenna, plus a virtual digital video recorder that stores up to 40 hours of programming in the cloud. Aereo claims its one-to-one arrangement does not violate copyright laws because subscribers are in effect each using their own antenna.

Broadcasters say not really.

“It simply does not matter whether Aereo uses one big antenna to receive plaintiffs’ broadcasts and retransmit them to subscribers, or ‘tons’ of ‘tiny’ antennas, as Aereo claims it does,” the lawsuit states. “No amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo–or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated ‘rabbit ears’–changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit plaintiff’s broadcasts may only do so with plaintiff’s authority.”

The broadcasters say Aereo’s infringement will undermine their ability to do business with cable, satellite and telcoTV providers, from whom they generally receive retransmission fees; and with over-the-top providers such as iTunes and Hulu.

The suit asks the court to enjoin Aereo from retransmitting broadcast signals and to award unspecified damages. It was filed today by attorneys at Jenner & Block LLP in New York and Chicago.

National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said the “NAB strongly supports today’s legal action against Aereo. Copyright and TV signal protections promote a robust local broadcasting system that serves tens of millions of Americans every day with high quality news, entertainment, sports and emergency weather information. A plaintiffs’ win in this case will ensure the continued availability of this programming to the viewing public.”

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