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MAY
24
11 MOS

TV Broadcasters Launch Aereokiller Lawsuit in Washington

Is the battle over the digital distribution of broadcast television eventually headed to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Alki David Headshot - P 2011
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
Alki David

Television broadcasters are taking the fight over unauthorized streaming to the nation's capital.

On Thursday night, Fox, NBCU, Disney/ABC, Allbritton Communications and Telemundo filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Alki David's TV digital distribution services in Washington D.C. federal court.

The complaint (read in full here) seeks to restrain Aereokiller and FilmOn.TV from retransmitting local TV programming online.

Alki David, an eccentric billionaire, has been operating his digital TV units since 2008 and his companies bear some functional similarity to Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed company that is subject to litigation in another jurisdiction.

The move to file in a D.C. federal court against Aereokiller/FilmOn is a notable one in the continuing legal controversy.

STORY: Aereo Beats Broadcasters in Big Appellate Ruling

Earlier this year, the TV broadcasters were able to obtain an injunction against Aereokiller in much of the Western United States after a California federal judge agreed that the service likely infringes broadcasters' copyrights and irreparably harms their businesses. Then in April, TV broadcasters suffered a defeat when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals -- which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont -- came to a different conclusion on Aereo and wouldn't stop that similar service.

By suing Aereokiller instead of Aereo on Thursday, the broadcasters have perhaps calculated that David's company represents a better legal target in hopes of gaining favorable precedent.

And by filing a lawsuit in D.C., the broadcasters are not only bringing the legal battle in the backyard of legislators who are currently debating the future of television, they are also filing in a circuit that typically commands close scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As various jurisdictions weigh whether relaying over-the-air TV signals to digital devices constitutes a transmission "to the public" and a violation of broadcasters' public performance rights, differing judicial outcomes raise the potential of the controversy landing on the doorstep of the nation's highest court.

Upon the filing of the complaint, Fox, NBCU, Disney/ABC and Allbritton (which owns an ABC station in D.C.) gave this statement to The Hollywood Reporter:

“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. 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. We believe that the DC court will uphold our copyright interests and further restrict Aereokiller’s operations.”

We've also reached out to David, who recently made a settlement deal with Aereo over trademark claims, and will update if he has anything to say.

Meanwhile, in another development this week, a company by the name of Syncbak has filed papers in an Iowa federal court this week in hopes of quashing a subpoena served by Aereo.

Syncbak, which offers technology allowing local TV stations to stream their signal to consumers in their market, recently made headlines when CBS Corp. announced that it had taken a strategic minority stake in the company. Aereo wants to know more, but Syncbak argues that Aereo "has no conceivable legitimate need for the extensive set of documents it demands."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner