NFL, Major League Baseball back broadcasters in fight vs Aereo

Mon Nov 18, 2013 2:28pm EST
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By Liana B. Baker

Nov 18 (Reuters) - The National Football League and Major League Baseball have threatened to move all of their games to cable television if streaming startup Aereo is deemed legal, the professional sports leagues said in a new legal filing.

In a "friend of the court" filing with the U.S. Supreme Court dated Nov. 12, both leagues threw their support behind the broadcasters in a high-profile dispute with Aereo, which has drawn legal fire since it began in 2012.

Aereo is a New York-based startup backed by Barry Diller's Internet and media company IAC InterActivecorp that uses personal TV antennas to give subscribers access to free over-the-air broadcast channels for a small fee.

The lawsuits involving Aereo were being closely watched because its product is seen as a threat to the TV industry's ability to control subscription fees and generate advertising revenue, their two main sources of revenue.

In October, broadcasters ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co, CBS Broadcasting Inc, Comcast Corp's NBC Universal, and Fox Television Stations Inc , asked the Supreme Court to hear their case claiming the online service steals copyrighted television content.

The broadcasters are appealing an April decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that denied their request to shut down Aereo while litigation moved forward. The sports leagues have urged the Supreme Court to take the case.

A key question in the lawsuits is whether Aereo's technology provides users with a "public performance" of the plaintiffs' content. Copyright owners have the exclusive right to public performance of their works.

Fox, CBS and NBC broadcast both NFL and MLB games. The sports leagues argued that Aereo is illegally rebroadcasting signals without licensing the content for which it charges other companies such as Verizon and DirecTV hundreds of millions.   Continued...