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Broadcasters take Aereo lookalike to court in L.A.

Broadcasters’ continuing efforts to use the courts to shut down perceived threats is starting to sound like a familiar story.

Alki David — the chief executive officer of FilmOn — has started a competitive service to Aereo in Los Angeles. All of the major broadcasters immediately filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in California this week, claiming David is infringing on their copyrights and trademarks by retransmitting broadcast shows without broadcasters’ permission.

The Fox network claimed David has illegally transmitted its programming from KABC and KTTV to Internet viewers. It is seeking a permanent injunction against David and his BarryDriller Content Systems, the name of David’s Aereo copycat. It is named after media mogul Barry Diller, who is backing Aereo.

“The rights to transmit Plaintiffs’ programming over the Internet and to portable devices are extremely valuable,” Fox said in the lawsuit. “No amount of technological gimmickry by Defendants changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit Plaintiffs’ broadcasts may do so only with Plaintiffs’ authority.”

David, who lost an earlier lawsuit to broadcasters for using their signals, was emboldened by a recent legal victory by Aereo against television stations in U.S. District Court in New York City. In the earlier lawsuit, David signed an agreement to pull the plug on a streaming service by his company, FilmOn, and to pay the major broadcaster plaintiffs $1.6 million.

Aereo streams broadcast TV network and local signals in New York City over the Web to paying subscribers without paying the broadcasters. It rents tiny dime-sized antennas to pick up the signals, which, in a preliminary ruling, the court found is legal to do. Aereo is now expanding its service to go national.

David told the Wall Street Journal that the BarryDriller name is an “homage to a great guy and at the same time, it’s drilling him a bit.” He said he is now using the same technique as Aereo to legally subvert the broadcasters.

Unlike Aereo, David said he is willing to pay the broadcasters, though he has not paid them yet. The site is currently charging $5.95 a month to watch several local channels, or $59.95 a year. The site, according to David, has more than 28,000 subscribers.

Diller and Aereo are none too pleased at David’s antics. Diller told the Wall Street Journal that “I had hoped that if they steal my name they’d do it for something more provocative.”

An Aereo spokesman said “we have no knowledge of Mr. David’s business arrangements or his purported technology. Neither Mr. David nor FilmOn have any association with Aereo. It is unfortunate that they appear determined to try to trade on Aereo and its board members’ successes and reputation.”