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Two Utah television stations joined a national controversy over Internet-based television services by filing a federal lawsuit Monday that accuses one such service of rebroadcasting their content.
KUTV Channel 2, which also broadcasts on KMYU, and KSTU Fox 13 claim Aereo Inc. is violating the Copyright Act because it is retransmitting their content without permission, noting that the right to stream such feeds to computers and portable devices is "extremely valuable." The Fox Broadcasting Co. also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The television stations want a federal judge to issue an injunction barring Aereo from streaming their content and also are seeking damages to be determined at a jury trial.
Aereo, which launched in March 2012, captures broadcast signals, channels them through its servers and then transmits them out to subscribers using private miniature antenna loops the size of a finger tip and cloud-based technology. The content can be viewed on a desktop computer, tablet, or cellphone and may be recorded for later viewing.
Aereo began offering its "live TV online" service in Utah in mid-August. Subscribers pay $8 or $12 per month for access to content from approximately 29 different Utah broadcasters.
Aereo has faced legal challenges elsewhere, where it has argued that because it uses private antennas, one assigned to each individual subscriber, it is not engaging in "public performances" that would violate copyright law.
The company, which planned to have its service available in 20 TV markets by September, prevailed this summer when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court finding that its service did not violate the Copyright Act's public performance provision.
"The fact that Fox did not prevail in their efforts to enjoin Aereo in their existing federal lawsuit does not entitle them to a do-over in another jurisdiction," said Virginia Lam, Aereo spokeswoman. "All this meritless suit amounts to is forum shopping and we are hopeful that any such efforts to commence duplicative lawsuits to try to seek a different outcome will be rejected by the courts."
In a similar case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction in September against FilmOn X sought by Fox and other broadcasters that applied in all states but New York, Connecticut and Vermont, according to The New York Times. The three exempted states are within the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Attorneys for KUTV and Fox 13 argue that "no amount of technological gimmickry" used by Aereo changes the fact that anyone who wants to rebroadcast copyright content must get permission.
The plaintiffs issued a statement Monday that said the complaint demonstrates a "shared commitment to vigorously protect copyrighted programming from outright theft by opportunistic entities such as Aereo. These local broadcasters have, for more than three decades, delivered to Utah viewers not only leading local news, sports and entertainment, but also national sports and entertainment content including NFL on FOX and PAC-12 programming and leading prime-time series."
"Legitimate retransmission services like cable and satellite companies, in contract, obtain licenses to retransmit broadcast signals to their subscribers," the complaint states.
The television stations allege Aereo is essentially competing directly with them and their own websites as well as their lawful licenses and authorized retransmitters, including iTunes, Hulu and other cable, satellite, broadband and mobile providers. Aereo also is taking advantage and undermining their creative and financial investments in programming content, the television stations say.
That will negatively affect their ability to sell advertising, obtain sponsorships and otherwise financially benefit from their independently created content, the lawsuit states.