* US TV networks file restraining order to stop FilmOn
* Networks have sued FilmOn and ivi Inc
* FilmOn charged $9.95 for service, now free
(Adds FilmOn comment)
By Kenneth Li
NEW YORK, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Four top U.S. television networks have asked a federal court to stop the Internet video service FilmOn.com from offering TV channels over the web and on Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) iPad for free.
FilmOn.com Plc 2F0.BE, which claims to be the first high definition Internet television network, launched in September 2010 and was founded by British billionaire entrepreneur Alki David, who recently offered to pay $1 million for someone to strip naked in front of U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I‘m not a thief,” David said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’re a bona fide business. We’re not pirates.”
The network’s suit comes as start-ups have sought to bypass traditional media companies by offering programming to Internet users without paying fees to free-to-air channels.
The networks, eager to control the way their programs are distributed, in September sued ivi Inc, a service that offers TV channels over the Web. Some TV networks have also blocked videos on their websites from Google Inc’s (GOOG.O) Google TV.
FilmOn, a Berlin-listed company, initially charged users $9.95 per month, to access “over 30 premium free-to-air television channels.” But it began offering the service for free after the networks sued FilmOn days after its Sept. 27 launch, according to a copy of the restraining order seen by Reuters.
“It’s against the law to steal a broadcast signal and stream it to wireless devices and over the Internet, without the copyright owner’s permission,” the networks said in a joint statement. “FilmOn.com is the latest in a short line of companies that has robbed our broadcast signals and distributed them illegally for their own commercial gain.”
David, whose biography on the website said he “stars in major Hollywood films and mini series as well as writing, directing and starring in his own independent movies” and who is “experienced in commerce and banking”, said FilmOn was well within its rights to rebroadcast networks offered for free over the air.
“The (US copyright) rules does not require the consent of the broadcast owner,” David said, according to his reading of U.S. copyright law.
David added he was in negotiations with two of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but declined to name the companies.
“We’ll see if we can avoid lawyers getting paid more money,” David said. But, “I‘m not shy of a fight ... If we’re making money, we’re prepared to pay. If we’re not making money , we’re not prepared to pay.”
The plaintiffs in the case are CBS Corp, Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) ABC, General Electric Co (GE.N)-controlled NBC and News Corp’s (NWSA.O) Fox, and CBS Corp (CBS.N). (Reporting by Kenneth Li and Yinka Adegoke, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Sofina Mirza-Reid)