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Movie, Broadcasting Companies Sue iCraveTV

Taking legal action to stop the theft and unauthorized performances of U.S. copyrighted films and television programs, 10 motion picture and three broadcasting companies have filed a complaint against iCraveTV and backers of the operation.

"This is a clear and damaging case of theft by iCraveTV that threatens the intellectual property, investments and achievements of the U.S. television and motion picture industry," said Jack Valenti, president and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, during a telephone press conference.

"This kind of cyberspace stealing must be stopped, wherever it occurs, because it violates the principles of U.S. copyright law. Copyrighted programs and films don't fall from the skies; they evolve from creative artists, supported by considerable financial investments."

The complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania charges that the defendants are responsible for "one of the largest and most brazen thefts of intellectual property ever committed in the United States."

iCraveTV is charged with seizing copyrighted television programs and motion pictures and performing them via the Internet without authorization. The complaint charges the defendants with copyright infringement, trademark infringement, unfair competition and other torts.

The plaintiffs filing the complaint are the 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 companies filed the suit in Pittsburgh because iCraveTV listed a Pittsburgh address when it registered the name of its Web site in October 1999.

The battle between iCraveTV, a Toronto unit of TVRadioNow Corp., and the U.S. groups began last November when the Web site started carrying broadcast content, including football games, from four Buffalo, N.Y., television stations. A group of Canadian broadcasters also accused iCraveTV.com of unlawfully rebroadcasting their signals and violating copyrights and trademarks.

At the time, the company claimed the site complied with Canadian regulations that allow Internet retransmission of Canadian-TV signals as long as they aren't altered and that company was negotiating with the Canadian Royalty Tribunal to settle required royalty payments to programming-rights holders. Canadian cable and satellite firms pay the Canadian Royalty Tribunal to carry U.S. signals, which distributes funds to programming-rights holders.

Ian Maccallum, vice president of corporate sales and development for iCraveTV, told Reuters the firm believes nothing is illegal about taking existing broadcast television signals in Toronto and putting them on the Internet.

"What we're doing is ethical, is legal, is moral, and the fact that somebody claims to the contrary does not change the true nature of it," he said from the firm's headquarters in Toronto.

He said iCraveTV President William Craig left Pittsburgh last summer and moved to Toronto, where iCraveTV began operations on Nov. 30.

Daniel A. Boehnen, an intellectual property lawyer and partner at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Bergoff in Chicago, told InternetNews.com the broadcasters are likely to prevail.

"The law will be on the side of the broadcasters, and they will not hesitate to jump on Mr. Craig with full force. As the broadcasters say, they own the rights to their broadcasts, and Mr. Craig has not properly obtained rights to those broadcasts," he said.

"His argument