From Diana J. Choyce
Mar 13 - 26, 2000
As internet connection speeds get faster and more consistent, many
companies are looking to broadband services to entertain us. We have come a long way from
the early midi files that we loved so much. Audio and visual files are now easily
streamed, although the quality still needs some refinement. And of course, many companies
are looking for ideas and applications to profit from this. One such company has brought
this subject to the forefront, and taken plenty of heat for it. Late last year, iCraveTV
began streaming 17 channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC, and Canada's CBC, over the Internet.
However, The North American Broadcasters Association (representing 37 networks and
broadcasters in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) and the National Football League both vowed
to take iCraveTV to court if it continued its service. It would seem another case of the
big guy against the little guy was taking root over profits. And this case will probably
be the first among many such battles between broadcasters and the new media companies.
At the heart of the issue is whether iCraveTV was violating
broadcasters' copyrights by carrying programming on its Web site. The Canadian Association
of Broadcasters promptly filed a cease-and-desist order against iCraveTV, ordering it to
stop "unlawfully streaming broadcasters' signals through their Web site.
"ICraveTV.com isn't playing by the rules," said Michael McCabe, president and
chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, in a prepared
statement. "They have neither sought nor obtained permission to use our
signals." "ICraveTV is acting similar to someone who has stolen your car and
called you up a day later and says, now I will negotiate a selling price," responds
Bill Roberts, secretary general of the North American Broadcasters Association.
Bill Craig, iCraveTV president, stood defiant in the face of the
looming legal action. "Why should we stop broadcasting?" Craig asked. Craig
argues that Canadian cable and satellite companies pay the Canadian Royalty Tribunal to
carry U.S. signals, which in turn distributes over $40 million in funds to U.S.
broadcasters and program rights holders. Craig says he's willing to pay broadcasting
tariffs to rebroadcast programming over the Net, but until such a tariff exists, it would
be business as usual. Craig's setup was rather simple as he had only to put up an ordinary
TV antenna 60 miles from the New York/Ontario border to pick up the feed. The company then
simply funneled the signal through its Web site. ICraveTV had a security system on its
site designed to keep U.S. viewers out. To gain access to iCraveTV one would enter a
Canadian area code. Both the NFL and the NABA called that security measure a
"joke." Because iCraveTV shrinks the picture and wraps its own advertising
around the video feed, broadcasters say iCraveTV is violating copyright laws by altering
the broadcast image. The broadcasts are not exactly picture-perfect streaming, and the
quality ranges from excellent to poor. Craig says quality depends on available Net
bandwidth. iCraveTV was offering service optimized for people who connect to the site with
56K modems and a 128KB stream for broadband surfers. It supported both Microsoft's Media
Player and Real Networks' RealPlayer. The revenue was to be generated from selling
advertising that runs along the bottom of the video image. Faced with a loss of his
revenue, and standing on principal Craig said, "I've got a lot of personal skin tied
up in this. I'm not going to give up without a fight."
However bravely Craig stood up to the pressure, he finally conceded
defeat this past month. He was sued in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh and in a Canadian
court and agreed not to rebroadcast American TV programming to audiences in the United
States without permission. Under the settlement, iCrave has agreed to "never again
engage in the illegal streaming of television signals into the U.S. via the
Internet," the MPAA said in a statement. The MPAA stressed in the statement that the
copyright suit against iCraveTV was not meant to be an attack on the Internet in general.
Michael McCabe, president of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, said the settlement
signals that the rights of copyright holders and creators cannot be ignored. The Canadian
broadcasters who sued iCraveTV included the government-financed Canadian Broadcasting
Corp., Global TV and TVOntario, and the provincial education broadcaster. The iCrave
company asserted that the rebroadcasts were legal under Canadian law, but the plaintiffs,
including Disney, MGM, Paramount and ABC, CBS and Fox called the Web site one of the
largest and most brazen thefts of intellectual property evercommitted. Craig has said it
was never his intention that the broadcasts would be picked up by viewers using computers
in the United States. NABA's
Roberts has said that "to be fair to iCraveTV, it is breaking new
ground and raising issues that are only at the tip of the iceberg in a new era of
broadcast and Web services."