December 13, 1999 4:30 PM PST
U.S. stations want to shut off Internet TV
iCraveTV launched just two weeks ago, broadcasts 17 television stations from Canada and the United States over the Internet. As the first North American site to bring network television shows online, it is testing the boundaries between old and new media--and has wound up in legal trouble as a result.
Last week, the U.S. stations gave iCraveTV an ultimatum: Stop broadcasting, or face legal action. The Friday deadline passed and the shows went on, and now the stations say they'll see iCraveTV.com in court.
"We are in agreement that we will initiate legal action to stop what [iCraveTV] is doing," said Tom Davidson, legal counsel for Granite Broadcasting, which owns Buffalo, N.Y.'s WKBW-TV. "We are confident that what they are doing is illegal in both jurisdictions."
The dispute between programmers and iCraveTV will help set ground rules for what is likely to be a contentious relationship between traditional broadcasters and upstart Net companies. The Canadian start-up is the first to offer uncut, uninterrupted streams of broadcast television programming online. Its fate could determine the early course of Internet television.
Large Web sites like America Online and Yahoo have expressed some interest in offering broadcast programming online. But a recent fight in Congress left the rules governing this process unresolved. Net companies say they'll have to gain permission from regulators or legislators before pursuing any type of Net broadcasting, however.
Under Canadian law, third parties like cable or satellite TV companies are allowed to retransmit broadcast signals as long as the programming isn't cut or modified. iCraveTV chief executive Bill Craig says the company is acting within the law.
Craig's service is geared for Canadian residents. To log on to the site, users must plug in a Canadian area code and agree to legal language stating that they are viewing the site from a PC in Canada. But no technological barriers currently prevent Web surfers from the United States or elsewhere from tuning in.
Craig says he's working with Canadian copyright authorities to find a formula that will allow the company to reimburse television programmers, much as satellite TV and cable companies do. But he's not willing to shut down the service.
This decision has pit iCraveTV against TV stations and programmers on both sides of the border. Canadian stations said early last week that they would ask the courts to shut the Net start-up down, and are still in the process of drafting their legal papers.
The National Football League has said the Net company could be liable for fines up to $100,000 for each game it shows online without permission. It's waiting to make a decision on legal action until after tonight's Monday Night Football game, a spokesman said.
Davidson said the U.S. stations haven't yet decided whether they would join the Canadian broadcasters in a joint lawsuit or file their own. Some form of legal action will come "soon," he said.