Broadcasters File Suits Against Aereo

RELATED: BLOG: The Aereo Paradox

A number of major broadcasters and station groups have filed two separate lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of N.Y. against Aereo, which is planning to launch a subscription service on March 14 that would allow users to watch broadcast signals on their smartphones, tablets or any Internet-enabled device.

The lawsuits, which allege violations of copyright laws, ask the court for an injunction to block the service as well as damages and court costs.

In response to one of the suits, the National Associations of Broadcasters issued this statement from NAB executive VP of communications Dennis Wharton: "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."

Plaintiffs in the suits include both broadcasters and major studios.

One of the lawsuits filed in Federal Court in N.Y. named the American Broadcasting Companies, Disney Enterprises, CBS Broadcasting, CBS Studios, NBC Universal Media, NBC Studios, Universal Network Television, Telemundo Network Group and WNJU-TV as plaintiffs against Aereo.

This suit charges copyright violations and seeks a preliminary and permanent junction against Aereo.

A statement from ABC, CBS and NBC issued to B&C notes that "this service is based on the illegal use of our content. Beyond that, we believe the complaint speaks for itself."

In the other suit, PBS, Fox Television Stations, Univision Television Group, the Univision Network, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., WNET and Thirteen have joined together as plaintiffs against Aereo.

Full text of the second suit, which alleges copyright violations and unlawful competition, can be found here.

It also sees to block the Aereo service and seeks damages, attorney fees and court costs.

Aereo, which has raised about $25 million from such backers as Barry Diller, went public with plans in mid-February to initially launch a $12 a month subscription service in New York City on March 14. The company eventually hopes to expand nationwide.

The company notes that the signals for each subscriber are received on separate coin-sized antenna. It then takes those signals, encodes them and sends them out over the Internet, where they can be accessed by iPhones, iPads and other Internet-connected devices.

Because each subscriber has its own antenna located in Aereo's facility and offers dedicated storage for the DVR features, the company claims no copyright violations occur.

At the press conference announcing the service, Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia did, however, admit that they expected challenges, Multichannel News reported.

"We understand that there will be challenges... We are building a transformative business and there will be challenges," he said.

Multichannel News also reported that "The beta version of the service went live on Feb. 9; the company declined to say how many micro-antennas it has deployed but put the number in the ‘thousands.'"

Broadcasters have previously been successful in blocking Internet streaming services in court and they won a major suit last year against ivi TV.

"Aereo has no rights, under any license, statute or case law, to any of the copyrighted programming that is the basis of its subscription only Internet service," the lawsuit filed by ABC, CBS, NBC and others argued. "Aereo just helps itself-without permission and on a round-the-clock basis-to programs created, owned and broadcast by plaintiffs. Although other distributors, including cable and satellite operators and telephone companies, pay to retransmit the same programming, Aereo's business is based on circumventing the carefully balanced distribution system mandated by Congress. That is infringement."

In an email to B&C labeled as a blog post, Mike Schroeder at Aereo noted that "Aereo 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....Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use. Innovations in technology over time, from digital signals to Digital Video Recorders ("DVRs"), have made access to television easier and better for consumers. Aereo provides technology that enables consumers to use their cloud DVR and their remote antenna to record and watch the broadcast television signal to which they are entitled anywhere they are, whether on a phone, a tablet, a television or a laptop."