Updated at 2:37 p.m.
Television broadcasters filed a copyright infringement lawsuit yesterday against FilmOn.com Inc., a company that allows users to stream live television programs online. The networks are seeking a court injunction, accusing FilmOn of "exploiting…some of the most valuable intellectual property created in the United States."
The lawsuit is the latest stage of litigation playing out in courts on both coasts over the technology employed by FilmOn and another company offering the same service known as Aereo Inc. Aereo and FilmOn previously butted heads in trademark disputes—FilmOn founder Alki David adopted the name Aereokiller for his service—but recently reached a settlement, allowing them to focus on the larger challenges brought by the networks. David agreed to stop using the Aereokiller name, according to sibling publication Am Law Litigation Daily.
The plaintiffs include the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC television networks, as well as Telemundo, Disney and local affiliates of the big networks that air programming around the Washington region. Jenner & Block partner Paul Smith, co-chair of the firm's media and First Amendment practice, is lead counsel for the Fox plaintiffs. Arnold & Porter intellectual property partner Robert Garrett is lead counsel for the other plaintiffs.
According to filings, FilmOn uses tiny antennas to capture signals from television networks in local markets and makes the content available for streaming online, for a fee. The networks say they never gave FilmOn license to distribute copyrighted programs.
"Our complaint filed today in the federal district court for the District of Columbia underscores our commitment to vigorously protect our copyrighted programming from illegal appropriation by opportunistic pirates," the networks said in a joint statement.
In an interview, David said he was willing to pay licensing fees but the networks refused to agree or tried to "outprice" his company. He said the networks were "twisting truths" in their complaint and that his service utilized free-to-air signals.
"We come in peace. We don't come as the enemy," David said. "Unfortunately, the networks seek to position us as an enemy." He confirmed that Baker Marquart in Los Angeles, which has represented his company in related litigation, would be representing FilmOn in the D.C. case.
The networks sued FilmOn for copyright infringement in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in August and secured a limited injunction blocking the company from operating within the boundaries of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the western United States. The Ninth Circuit covers California, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska. That injunction is on appeal.
The networks filed a similar copyright infringement lawsuit against competing service Aereo in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. There, a federal judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction and a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the ruling. The networks are seeking reconsideration by a full sitting of the appeals court.
"A court in California has already enjoined Aereokiller from operating in nine western states, in the process recognizing that the commercial retransmission of our broadcasts without permission or compensation is a clear violation of the law and congressional intent," the networks said in their statement. "We believe that the DC court will uphold our copyright interests and further restrict Aereokiller’s operations."