A company that makes it possible for users to stream television programs live online is fighting a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the major U.S. broadcast networks. In a counterclaim filed late last week in Washington federal court, FilmOn X LLC argued the networks were violating the public trust by trying to block consumers' ability to watch free over-the-air broadcasts.
The ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC television networks, their local affiliates in the Washington metropolitan area, and several other national broadcasters sued FilmOn in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in late May. The networks accused FilmOn of "exploiting…some of the most valuable intellectual property created in the United States" by distributing their programs without a license.
FilmOn, according to court filings, uses tiny antennae to capture television broadcast signals in local markets and stream the live programming online. In counterclaims filed June 27, FilmOn, represented by attorneys with Baker Marquart in Los Angeles, denied it was infringing the networks' copyrights.
The company argued its technology allowed users to access television broadcasts in the same manner as "rabbit ear" antennae on a traditional television set. Since the networks are required by federal law to make broadcasts available for free, FilmOn argued that by filing the lawsuit, the networks were trying to block public access.
FilmOn said that when it made a "good faith" effort to negotiate with one of the networks, NBC, the network offered to sell FilmOn "one particular program from the dawn of television that is essentially worthless at present day, for a cost of $500,000.00 per year."
The company wants U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer to enter a judgment finding FilmOn did not violate the networks' copyrights.
In a statement, a Fox Networks Group spokesman said: "The courts have already made clear to [FilmOn founder Alki David] that the commercial retransmission of our broadcast signal without permission or compensation is a clear violation of the law. It is his right to attempt to make any claim he wishes, but we are confident that that he will be enjoined at every turn."
The Fox plaintiffs are being represented by Paul Smith of Jenner & Block. The remaining networks are being represented by Robert Garrett of Arnold & Porter. Garrett could not immediately be reached for comment.
The networks have sued in other courts to block FilmOn and a similar service known as Aereo Inc. from operating in other jurisdictions. The networks won a limited injunction against FilmOn in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and lost a case against Aereo in the Second Circuit. Both cases are still pending on appeal.