A group of broadcast television stations on Thursday sued Aereo, a startup company that plans to allow New York City customers to stream local channels over the Internet.
The lawsuit, filed by Fox, Univision, PBS and local New York City affiliates, accuses Aereo of planning to stream copyrighted material without permission.
"Aereo has not licensed this television programming from those who own it. Nor has it sought or received consent from the television signal owners," the stations charge in their suit. "Thus, for $12 a month, Aereo will provide unlimited streams of Plaintiffs' television broadcasts over the Internet in direct competition with Plaintiffs."
Broadcast television is transmitted over-the-air for free to customers with a television antenna.
Aereo plans to operate data centers using tiny antennas to pick up the broadcast signals and then transmitting the video over the Internet. The company will allow a customer to buy access to one of the antennas, so the customer can watch broadcast television on their computer or tablet.
In a statement, Aereo insisted there is nothing illegal about its business plan.
"Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use," the company said.
"Innovations in technology over time, from digital signals to Digital Video Recorders ('DVRs'), have made access to television easier and better for consumers. Aereo provides technology that enables consumers to use their cloud DVR and their remote antenna to record and watch the broadcast television signal to which they are entitled anywhere they are, whether on a phone, a tablet, a television or a laptop. Aereo looks forward to its upcoming product launch as well as a prompt resolution of these cases."
The company announced that it had received $20 million in funding earlier this month.
But the stations' lawsuit accuses Aereo of trying to use "technological gimmickry" to avoid copyright law.
"It simply does not matter whether Aereo uses one big antenna to receive Plaintiffs' broadcasts and retransmit them to subscribers, or 'tons' of 'tiny' antennas, as Aereo claims it does," the stations wrote. "Simply put, Aereo is an unauthorized Internet delivery service that is receiving, converting and retransmitting broadcast signals to its subscribers for a fee."