Cabler sued over copyrights

WASHINGTON — Life isn’t getting any easier for execs at Adelphia Communications.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America’s member studios, as well as the Chicago White Sox and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, have slapped the beleaguered cabler’s execs with lawsuits alleging Adelphia cable systems aired Major League Baseball games, syndicated series and movies they own without paying royalties required by federal copyright law.

Suits were filed Dec. 2 against Adelphia in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

The studios maintain that Adelphia is liable for copyright infringement because its cable systems failed to pay the requisite statutory license fees due in late August 2002.

“Defendants infringed those copyrights by willfully and repeatedly retransmitting the broadcast signals embodying the copyright owners’ works without the consent of the copyright owners,” the suit alleges.

Suits rep another blow to a company suffering from a series of debilitating setbacks this year.

Filed for bankruptcy

Adelphia is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy after federal prosecutors indicted the company’s founder, John Rigas, and two of his sons earlier this year on charges that included improper use of company funds. The cabler has also come under criticism for raising cable rates on customers while providing perks and bonuses to its top execs.

So far Adelphia has refunded $6.1 million to more than 222,500 subscribers and reduced rates an average of $1.91 per month.

Suits cite several programs Adelphia cable companies aired at the end of June 2002 without paying the required copyright fees on stations in Chicago, Louisville, Los Angeles, Denver, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, as well as Buffalo, N.Y.; Greenville, Tenn.; and Colorado Springs, Col. Programs cited include the films “Bustin’ Loose,” from Universal; MGM’s “Bull Durham,” Great Balls of Fire,” “Cool Blue” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors”; Fox’s “Prelude to a Kiss”; and Warner Bros.’ “Batman,” as well as sitcoms “Frasier” (Paramount) and “Seinfeld” (Sony Pictures TV).

Suits argue that officers and directors of Adelphia are responsible for the copyright infringement because they had the ability to control any decision to infringe the copyright law and because they received direct financial benefit from doing so.

Adelphia spokesman Paul Jacobson declined to comment.

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