February 8, 2000 1:05 PM PST

Judge extends online TV ban

A federal judge hammered another nail into Net television start-up iCraveTV.com's coffin today, effectively ordering the site to stay offline through a potentially lengthy trial process.

iCraveTV is the target of several massive lawsuits by broadcasters and sports leagues in Canada and the United States. They say the small Net company's showing of their TV shows online violates copyright laws on both sides of the border.

iCraveTV has been offline since Jan. 28. Late last month, a court in Pittsburgh ordered the site to stop the broadcast service temporarily. Today's ruling sets that previous decision in stone, keeping the Canadian company from serving any U.S. citizens until a full trial is completed.

That process could take months or years.

iCraveTV launched in late November with the goal of showing the content of 17 television Online TV may spark Net battle stations online, uncut and uninterrupted. But the company didn't ask the TV stations' permission, prompting an avalanche of legal threats and lawsuits.

U.S. broadcasters and movie studios were the first to sue, noting that the service was available to U.S. Web surfers even though the Canadian company said it had targeted only Canadian viewers.

The use of U.S. television stations' content amounted to "one of the largest and most brazen thefts of intellectual property ever committed in the United States," the broadcasters said in their lawsuit. They asked for $150,000 for every show that had been streamed online over iCraveTV's more than two months of operations.

The National Football League and the National Basketball Association chimed in on the same day, asking for another $5 million in damages. Canadian broadcasters and movie studios sued a week later, seeking an ambitious $75 million.

Today's ruling could give new impetus to settlement talks, which had been expected by some involved to be completed before today's court hearing.

But Michael Manzo, an attorney for the U.S. broadcasters, said no settlement is imminent.

"There have been discussions about a settlement," he said. "But I don't think they're going anywhere at this point."

"We are continuing to proceed on a dual track," iCraveTV chief executive Bill Craig said in a statement today. "We have been engaged in negotiations with the U.S. and Canadian rights holders, which we expect to continue."

At the same time, the company is working to improve its security mechanisms so that it can keep U.S. residents off its site, Craig said.

The injunction will now be in place through the U.S. trial. The judge said an initial hearing in that process would be held in 90 days. iCraveTV could legally still stream to users in Canada, but without a technological way to ensure that U.S. surfers were not accessing the site, the orders have effectively shut the site down.

 

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