The controversial Internet TV company Aereo Inc. doesn’t want lawsuits from angry broadcasters to prevent its entry into Boston and other major US markets. So on Monday, Aereo launched a preemptive strike, asking a federal court to rule that its business model is legal.
Aereo, which intercepts over-the-air TV broadcasts and then transmits them over the Internet, currently operates only in New York, but is planning to launch its service in Boston May 15.
The company is being sued in New York by several networks that say Aereo’s business practices amount to rampant copyright infringement.
Aereo’s latest legal maneuver targets CBS Corp., which has threatened to sue Aereo again if carries out its plan to do business in Boston.
To forestall this, Aereo has asked the court to declare that its redistribution of CBS programs is legal in Boston, as well as in several other cities where Aereo plans to launch operations this year: Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
John Strand, an intellectual property attorney at the Boston firm Wolf Greenfield & Sacks, said Aereo wants to prevent CBS from filing separate lawsuits in multiple cities and keep all related litigation before the court in New York.
“This is not an uncommon way for parties to resolve disputes,” Strand said.
Dan Rayburn, a media industry analyst for the research firm Frost & Sullivan, said that Aereo’s gambit may reduce the cost of litigation but will have no effect on the outcome of the case.
“It doesn’t get to the root of the problem,” Rayburn said, “which is, is this legal or not?”
Subscribers pay Aereo $8 a month or $80 a year to watch shows on any Internet-connected television set, computer, tablet, or smartphone.
A TV viewer who subscribes to Aereo and some other Internet video service, such as Netflix or Hulu, could watch favorite TV shows and movies for about $20 a month —
So Aereo could tempt more people to cancel their cable subscriptions.
This could prove financially disastrous for TV networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, because cable companies pay them billions for the right to carry their broadcasts.
The networks fought back with a lawsuit in a federal court in New York.
That court refused to issue an injunction against Aereo’s doing business.
That decision was appealed, but unsuccessfully; the appeals court said that Aereo would have a good chance of winning once the lawsuit goes to trial.
Still, “We’re confident that Aereo will be declared illegal, just as other companies that had the same business plan,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.