RealTime IT News

iCraveTV Gets First-Round Setback

iCraveTV.com late Friday lost a major round in its fight with Hollywood and the major TV networks when as a Pittsburgh federal judge ordered the company to at least temporarily pull its streaming broadcasts of several TV signals.

The temporary restraining order issued by Judge Donald Ziegler was an initial victory for 10 U.S. motion picture studios, three broadcast television networks and two of the country's largest sports leagues in their attempts to stop iCraveTV.com from rebroadcasting television content for which they hold copyright. In addition, the judge ordered iCraveTV.com to turn over to the studios by Feb. 2 "copies of all their (Web) server logs (plus) updates of the logs on a daily basis thereafter."

Listed as the plaintiffs in the Motion Picture Association Of America- backed lawsuit 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.

Launched late last year, iCraveTV has been streaming the programming of 17 Canadian and U.S. broadcast TV stations online, uncut and uninterrupted, without permission, angering programmers on both sides of the border. Further, the company was running its own banner advertising as a border around its RealPlayer transmission screen.

"We're pleased with the court's decision," said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the National Football League, which succeeded in stopping the company from broadcasting the Super Bowl championship game Sunday.

Jack Valenti, MPAA president and chief executive officer, was pleased with the ruling.

"Judge Ziegler's ruling reaffirms that this is a simple case of theft. This is a first-step victory for creative artists, consumers and copyright owners everywhere," he said in a statement.

William Craig, head of Radio Now Corp., the Canadian company which operates iCraveTV.com, couldn't disagree more. He has said his outfit is operating in accordance with the rules set out by its country's broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The Canadian company argues that Canada's laws give it the right to retransmit broadcast television signals, in the same way that cable companies and satellite companies do. As long as the company doesn't cut or insert its own commercials into the programming itself, and ultimately pays copyright holders for their work, iCraveTV's action is completely legal, Craig says.

This is because under recently liberalized Canadian laws, enacted to encourage Internet creativity, he may be technically correct. His opponents, however, claim he is infringing on more-strict U.S. laws because much of his viewership comes from south of the border. ICraveTV alleges it prevents that by insisting that users logging on must identify themselves with a Canadian telephone area code, reminiscent of the "Joe sent me" passwords of speakeasy days. But, in case a user doesn't have a Joe handy, the site actually provides an area code for U.S. users lacking a phone book.

Craig argues that under Canadian law iCraveTV.com is free to operate just like any other cable television company, which can retransmit signals to it customers without negotiating with programmers for rights. Instead, cable companies in both Canada and the U.S. pay fees to communal royalty funds that are then paid out to the production industry. Craig says iCraveTV.com could make similar payments, but for the moment he is saying it from the safety of a northern exposure, giving his statements from Toronto.