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Will Copyright Law Save New York Area Baseball Fans?

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SAN FRANCISCO, October 19th, 2010 -- As the landmark dispute over retransmission consent fees between Fox and Cablevision threatens to  drag on through Tuesday, New York area baseball fans who are also Cablevision subscribers are scrambling to make alternative plans to view or hear the game.

One ostensibly legal option they have is to view the Tuesday game between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies on a new internet television service that retransmits broadcasters' signals over the internet.

The Seattle-based start-up ivi launched a new service mid-September that streams live television over the internet from ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS, The CW, and PBS.

Users download a program onto their computers, provide their credit card information and are promised a one-month free trial before having to pay $4.99 a month.

It's not clear yet whether the service falls under the parameters of current copyright law, although the founders of the web site contends that it does, and have filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in federal district court against the broadcasters to establish that contention.

In a suit filed in federal district court for the Western District of Washington late September, ivi says that the Copyright Act specifically allows others to retransmit broadcasters' signals as long as they pay the fees to the broadcasters as spelled out under federal law.

""The Copyright Act expressly approves of the secondary transmission of an original television broadcast where the secondary transmission is subject to a statutory license," a team of ivi's lawyers told the court in its filing.

"ivi is not another Pirate Bay or Napster trying to gain from others' works," said ivi's Founder and CEO Todd Weaver in a statement accompanying its pre-emptive lawsuit. "We recognize that it is disruptive to existing cable offerings and remain confident that we have adopted a model that is allowed under all applicable laws."

ivi filed suit against ABC, CBS, CW Broadcasting, Disney, Fisher Communications, Fox Television, Major League Baseball, NBC Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, WGBH Educational Foundation, and

A group of 24 broadcasters and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball for their parts filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against ivi in federal district court for Southern New York just over a week later.

The group's lawyers argued in a court filing that ivi doesn't qualify under copyright law as a "cable system" entitled to make use of the law's compulsory licensing provisions.

"Defendants are nothing more than publicity-seeking pirates that use the pretext of a non-existent loophole to exploit the creative efforts of plaintiffs and other broadcast stations and copyright owners for unjust profit," the group's lawyers wrote.

Major League Baseball has its own web site and iPAD application that streams games online live, but some people who've used it claim that it's "horrible."

Other fans who are Cablevision subscribers in New York called in Monday to a New York City public radio station to discuss ways to access Tuesday's game online. Among the suggestions were access via "Project Free TV" and tuning into retransmission via

Sarah Lai Stirland was Contributing Editor for until April 2011. She has covered business, finance and legal affairs, telecommunications and tech policy for 15 years from New York, Washington and San Francisco. She has written for Red Herring, National Journal's Technology Daily, and She's a native of London and Hong Kong, and is currently based in San Francisco.

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