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C’right fight unites nets and studios

Media companies battling poachers

WASHINGTON — A Canadian Web site that allows viewers to watch several U.S. TV stations over the Internet was slapped Thursday with two lawsuits by angry American movie studios, broadcast networks and sports leagues.

The high-powered copyright owners are hoping to crush ICraveTV.com, which enables Netizens to view 17 TV stations including Buffalo, N.Y.’s NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affils as well as several Canadian stations.

The lawsuits are the latest example of the struggle by traditional media companies to fend off copyright poachers who find the digital age is providing new opportunities to profit from programming owned or distributed by others.

Just hours after the Motion Picture Assn. of America announced it was suing ICraveTV.com, a judge in New York ruled in favor of the studio trade org in a separate case against a group of DVD hackers. The judge ordered the hackers to shut down their Web sites, which featured a program that breaks the copy protection software on DVDs.

The studios worry that the defeat of their DVD encryption program could allow copyright pirates to create an endless string of near-perfect copies.

In the two lawsuits filed against ICraveTV.com — one by movie studios and broadcast companies, the other by the National Football League and the National Basketball Assn. — the plaintiffs claim that ICraveTV.com is stealing copyrighted material worth billions of dollars.

“This is one of the most brazen thefts of intellectual property ever committed in the United States,” said MPAA president and CEO Jack Valenti in a conference call with reporters from the U.S. and Canada. “There has been no authorization, no payment. The simple way to put it is stealing.”

In a statement issued Thursday, ICraveTV.com declared that it had not yet seen the lawsuit filed against its Web site but expected to defend itself in court. “ICraveTV.com believes it is acting in compliance with applicable laws and will defend itself actively and vigorously,” said William Craig in the statement.

The only broadcast network not participating in the suit is NBC, but in a prepared statement the Peacock said it supported the effort 100% and left open the possibility that it would join the legal effort at a later date.

The companies participating in the lawsuit are 20th Century Fox Film, Disney, Columbia TriStar’s television and film divisions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Orion Pictures, Paramount, Universal City Studios, Time Warner Entertainment, CBS Broadcasting and Fox Broadcasting.

So far the sports leagues, studios and networks have not filed any action against ICraveTV.com in Canada. Valenti said legal action north of the border may come at a later date. However, a lawsuit in Canada may be much tougher for the copyright owners to win, as Canadian law is much more lenient when it comes to retransmitting television shows.

The Web site is supposed to be restricted to Canadian citizens but allows U.S. viewers to watch the allegedly bootlegged TV signals if they key in a Canadian telephone area code.

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