Legal Battle Brews Over Internet TV Re-broadcasting – What Are The Repercussions?

Legal Battle Brews Over Internet TV Re-broadcasting – What Are The Repercussions?

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When the ivi launch press release crossed my desk, to say I was interested would be an understatement. For those that don’t know ivi is an application that takes broadcast television, currently only from Seattle and New York, and streams it to your desktop, anywhere in the world. That Sunday, when I saw the NFL on ivi, I knew they were in trouble.A week or so later, I saw the first note about them getting Cease and Desist letters from the Networks. It wasn’t at all a surprise. I had expected the NFL to beat NBC to the punch, but I was wrong. After all, the NFL is the most stringent protector of its copyright I know of and they have the lengthiest copyright notice at the end of each and every game, I think. Usually by then I’ve lost interest or turned it off as it’s some minutes after the conclusion of the game.

What ivi TV Does

ivi, Inc. is offering a 30 day trial to ivi Air (consisting of over 25 over-the-air channels from ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW, PBS, and many others), and ivi TV pro (providing time-shifting features like pause, fast-forward, and rewind), and you can cancel anytime. Note: if you cancel before the 30 day trial is up, there will be no charges applied to your account.

When you sign-up, you enter your payment info so they can charge appropriately after the trial period, if you are not satisfied you may cancel anytime within the 30 day window, through the my ivi link on our website, and you will not be charged anything. After 30 days you will start monthly billing at the rate quoted, and you may cancel that at anytime. There are no contracts, no lock-in periods, or any other complexities. ivi is an online cable system, without any contracts.

The minimum package is $4.99 a month for ivi Air which features 28 channels including affiliates from FOX, NBC, CBS, the CW, and ABC as well as PBS and others.

The Broadcast Industry Response

The hype would have you believe that the Broadcast networks are afraid of ivi. I don’t know that is exactly the adjective I would use there. Livid, appalled, shocked and perhaps even dismayed come to mind before afraid does.

Really if they were afraid would they be threatening legal action?

List of Companies ivi has cited as having sent them letters:

  • The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)
  • Fisher Communications
  • NBC-Universal
  • FOX
  • The CW
  • ABC
  • MLB
  • Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
  • WGBH
  • and several more

The ivi Reply

It’s an interesting case. ivi claims they are a cable broadcaster and are paying and legally rebroadcasting through some, until now, little known loophole. In their response to the NAB’s statement they had this to say:

“We understand the NAB’s point of view and welcome this opportunity to enlighten them.  ivi TV (ivi, Inc.,) filed a lawsuit, because we were wrongly accused of copyright infringement, an accusation disruptive to our business. We needed resolution of these issues right away. We believe the copyright claims are unsubstantiated and are really just camouflage for trying to stifle innovation and competition. Furthermore, we pay broadcasters in accordance with the law, just like cable”

The suit they mention in the quote is the Complaint for Declaratory Judgment of Copyright Noninfringement that they filed on Monday in Seattle. They may or may not be infringing on copyright, that’s not really up for me to decide. But I’m certain that they might be in breach of any broadcasting agreement that they’ve entered into with said parties. Usually broadcast licensing agreements are very specific as to where and how that content can be transmitted. Considering the merging of cable television and data (how many of you get Internet from your cable provider?) it’s entirely possible the ivi has a leg to stand on. However, I also  think they might be outside of the guidelines of their broadcast agreements because anyone, anywhere can watch those broadcasts which gets into very murky, international licensing. I almost wonder if they have to buy a broadcasting license for every market in the world they are rebroadcasting that content to. It could be quite pricey if that’s the case.

Possible Repercussions For All Of Us

If this goes to some sort of formal hearing, which ivi sounds confident they can win, what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the differentiation of Internet streaming from other forms of broadcasting. If they get lumped together, then Internet streaming video could fall into the realm of FCC control. That could then, at the very least, mean that all online video would need content descriptors and ratings and fall under strict FCC scrutiny. I don’t know that that is something any of us want presently. It could simply amount to a full censorship campaign by the FCC on a fair amount of content that is freely available at present.

At worst… each and every one of us could suddenly need some sort of broadcast license or technical certification if we are streaming video of any kind through the Internet. Broadcast stations need licenses and certified broadcast engineers, all we need is a strong enough server and enough bandwidth.

The FCC makes periodic inspections of broadcast facilities, hardware and personnel, do we want that?

Personally, I don’t want my Internet streaming activities lumped into the same pot with broadcast, there are far too many things that need to be done and too many rules and regulations adhered to.

Luckily, according to the FCC’s own regulations of what a television broadcaster is, we just don’t fit.

TV broadcast, low power TV, and TV translator stations are assigned channels 6 MHz wide, designated as set forth in §73.603(a).

Those 6Mhz bands are between 54 Mhz and 806 Mhz so we’re fairly safe from that. But we could still run afoul of other regulations.

Previous Re-broadcasters In The News:

  • Spain 2008/09 Spanish Guardia conduct Civil Raids shutting down illegal re-broadcasters of BBC, iTV Channel 4 and Sky.
  • Swiss, another TV to Internet rebroadcaster, had some problems in 2008 but survives and maintains its service (including US availability). They have dropped some channels in the past including MTV (2009).
  • and Ustream face perpetual legal problems and takedown notices based on user streams of copyrighted materials.

ivi states that it’s not another Napster (which was totally illegal, got shut down, bought up and turned legal). So if they are found to be illegal, will they simply shut down and not be bought, re-made and reborn? Time will tell. Oddly, Hollywood Reporter called them just that, the Napster of television. Perhaps proving the naiveté of the founders of ivi, a quote from a TechFlash article stated “The 36-year-old was unaware of any other startup company which was attempting to deliver live TV feeds.” Yet, does just that and apparently legally from what I found.

Sign Off

Either way, it’s going to be a long and lengthy legal battle. ivi, Inc. did manage to raise $1 Million in venture capital (from an Angel Investor) so it does have some money in the bank. I just don’t know that it will be enough to upend the status quo. Even if they do survive, I can see them suddenly having to start blacking out some content based on insane blackout laws for local sporting events, etc (based on the copyright holders of the content in question). Eventually, there would probably just be less content and more black screen and their user base would dry up. That same thing could happen to international broadcasts as well and then I would be out of luck.

Sure, I admit, I would love to be able to watch live American sports here in the comfort of my Czech Republic home, but I doubt these guys are going to be the eternal source of that.  However, if they are, I’ll pay $5 a month for that!


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