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MPAA Vows To Shut Down Internet Broadcasts of TV Programs

By Toronto Star
 

TORONTO (CP) - American broadcasters, film companies and major sports leagues have launched lawsuits hoping to shut down a Canadian Web site they say illegally broadcasts U.S. TV stations on the Internet.

Ten film and three broadcast companies filed suit in U.S. District Court in western Pennsylvania on Thursday against iCraveTV and its owner William Craig, president of TVRadio Now Corp. of Toronto.

A parallel action filed by the National Football League and National Basketball League demands hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for any games intercepted by iCrave from stations in Buffalo, N.Y., or Toronto.

''I think we want to nail them to the wall now,'' Jack Valenti, president and chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, said during a teleconference call with reporters.

''Wherever these sites pop up in whatever venue, wherever they are, we are going to take all action we can and most passionately oppose them in the courts.''

iCraveTV.com went online in December, showing nine Canadian and eight U.S. TV stations on its Web site. The result is clear-enough audio, but a small video picture that is often grainy. The video quality deteriorates further on slow-speed connections.

The lawsuits were filed ''to stop what we think is one of the most brazen thefts of intellectual property ever committed in the U.S.,'' Valenti said. The legal complaints accuse the Canadian company of copyright infringement, trademark infringement and unfair competition among other things.

The suits ask the court to stop the Canadian company from broadcasting such programs on the Internet.

The entertainment companies filing the complaint are Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.; Disney Enterprises, Inc.; Columbia TriStar Television, Inc.; Columbia Pictures Television Inc.; Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; Orion Pictures Corp.; Paramount Pictures Corp.; Universal City Studios, Inc.; Time Warner Entertainment Co. L.P. (Warner Bros.); ABC Inc.; CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Fox Broadcasting Co.

The suit was filed in a Pittsburgh court because the domain name www.icravetv.com is registered with a domain name server in that state.

Craig, who has claimed earlier attempts to reach an agreement with broadcasters were ignored, was meeting with his legal team Thursday to review the suit filed against his company, he said in a release.

''iCraveTV believes it is acting in compliance with all applicable laws and will defend itself actively and vigorously,'' Craig said.

''Upon review we will have further comments.''

The sports leagues' lawsuit say that Craig was a former general manager of Fox Sports Pittsburgh, who also held a position with the Pittsburgh Penguins, before he set up shop in Canada.

The Canadian broadcasting industry has also warned him to stop what it called ''unlawful streaming of broadcasters' signals'' or face further legal action.

In a complaint last month, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters said iCraveTV.com is violating a host of copyright and trademark issues with the Net service.

Michael McCabe, president of the association, says his group's lawsuit against Craig should launch in a week or 10 days and the two cases may proceed on parallel tracks or may end up being folded together by the courts.

''Our interest is to stop them,'' McCabe says. ''They own the programming and we own the signals. But they'll be co-ordinated suits.''

He says money is not the issue, but rather to close iCraveTV down.

McCabe says the country's private broadcasters have talked to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and neither sees any connection to regulatory issues. The CRTC had declared last year that it would not be regulating the Internet.

''Our intention is to stop them and the CRTC has no particular interest in these proceedings.''

CanWest Global Communications is also looking for an injunction. Izzy Asper, the company's executive chairman, told CanWest's annual meeting in Toronto that a U.S. injunction might not be effective in Canada.

''CanWest Global, through the CAB, and if necessary, on our own will be taking action to protect our copyrights and our licence exclusivity,'' he said.

Craig's service is free but receives revenues from ads placed on his Web page. When it started, he said he was free to use the broadcast signals without permission because Canada's federal broadcast regulator, the CRTC, had already announced it did not plan to regulate the Internet.

Valenti said U.S. broadcasters have not been in contact with the Canadian government and had no plan yet to file a similar suit in Canada.

''I'm not sure about that. I don't want to get involved in that until a decision is made. We'll see how this plays out,'' Valenti said.

''We're examining all of our options in Canada as well and our lawyers have been in touch with Canadian lawyers on this.''

The NFL and NBA lawsuit said iCraveTV recognizes its transmissions violate U.S. copyright law and purports to limit its content to Canadian viewers. But it called those attempts ''deliberately ineffectual.''

The website asks only that, before receiving transmission, the viewer enter a Canadian area code - ''which can be found in any telephone directory in the United States,'' said the lawsuit - and agree that he or she is accessing the website from a Canadian address.

The lawsuit said the transmissions can easily be seen by viewers in the United States.

Contents copyright 1996-2000, The Toronto Star.

Reproduced for education and discussion. Not for commercial use.

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