Lawsuit • ABC and CW affiliates claim the Internet broadcaster violates copyright law.
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The owners of local television stations, KTVX Channel 4 and KUCW Channel 30, have asked a court to stop controversial Internet TV service, Aereo, from broadcasting their channels in Utah or elsewhere.
In a preliminary injunction filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the owner of the stations, Nextar Communications, claims Aereo is violating its copyrights by broadcasting its stations for a fee.
Aereo is a service that takes local over-the-air TV channels and broadcasts them over the Internet to subscribers' desktop computers or mobile devices such as a smartphone or tablet. It costs either $8 or $12 per month to subscribe to Aereo, which also includes a DVR function in which users can record their favorite programs in the cloud to be viewed later.
The service became available in Utah earlier this year and is also available in 26 other U.S. markets including Denver, Boston, Atlanta and New York City. Aereo launched in New York in the spring of 2012.
Last October, the owners of local television stations, KUTV Channel 2 and KSTU Channel 13, filed a separate lawsuit against Aereo for allegedly violating copyright law, claiming the right to transmit copyrighted material is "extremely valuable." That same month, Nextar filed its own suit on behalf of KTVX and KUCW.
Also Monday, a U.S. District Court judge granted Aereo's request to consolidate both lawsuits into one.
In Monday's request for a preliminary injunction, which the judge has not ruled on yet, Nextar claims that the broadcast of its TV channels is considered a public performance and that Aereo's function as a middleman that charges its subscribers "engages in public performances for which it must obtain copyright licenses."
Aereo believes it skirts the copyright issue through its unique technology. In each television market, the service uses an array of tiny dime-sized antennas, each one assigned to individual subscribers. The antennas pull in the over-the-air television signal, converts it to a digital stream and broadcasts it over the Internet to desktop computers and mobile devices.
Earlier this year, Aereo has already been the victor in two earlier lawsuits, one by major television networks such as ABC and Fox and another by the local ABC affiliate in Boston. In both cases, judges have denied preliminary injunctions to temporarily stop Aereo from operating, decisions that do not bode well for the local lawsuits here.
Since then, the major networks filed a petition in October with the U.S. Supreme Court to review and appeal the earlier cases.