Broadcasters sue Aereo startup service

Complaint sez Internet streaming plan violates stations' rights

The broadcast networks and a host of stations and studios have filed suit against Aereo, a service seeking to provide customers with Internet streams of major broadcast stations in the New York area.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, is seeking to halt Aereo, set to go public on March 14, as well as unspecified damages.

The station plaintiffs — which include WNET, Tribune’s WPIX, the Fox Television Stations and Univision O&O groups — say that the company’s plans infringe on their right to public performance, and that the streams of the signals would represent unfair competition. A separate suit was also filed by ABC, Disney, CBS, NBCUniversal and WNJU, also seeking an injunction and damages.

Aereo issued a statement saying that it does “not believe that the broadcasters’ position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues.

Federal courts have shut down the web streaming of TV station signals by companies like FilmOn and ivi, but Aereo has suggested that it could overcome the legal hurdle by setting up a service in which signals are captured by a tiny antenna for each individual subscriber, rather than the traditional one-to-many transmission The broadcasts are converted to a digital format and sent out over the Internet and to mobile devices. Aereo is charging $12 per month, and investors include Barry Diller’s IAC.

“It simply does not matter whether Aereo uses one big antenna to receive …broadcasts and retransmit them to subscribers, or ‘tons’ of ‘tiny’ antennas, as Aereo claims it does,” the WNET-Fox suit stated. “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 plaintiffs’ broadcasts may do so only with plaintiffs’ authority.”

In the other suit, the networks said that Aereo’s “miniature antenna scheme is an artifice,” and noted that it “digitally transcodes, converts and compresses the programs so they can be retransmitted through the Internet to its subscribers.”

Aereo asserted that “consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use.”