The lawsuit is in many ways a replay of a similar legal fight earlier this year over Canadian company iCraveTV.com, which offered online access to TV broadcasts before being closed by an onslaught of lawsuits.
RecordTV, created by Los Angeles resident David Simon, acts as a kind of VCR on the Web, recording TV shows for later playback.
The site, which Simon launched late last year as a service to his children, has skyrocketed to attracting nearly 2 million hits a day in recent months, Simon said. That was enough to put it squarely on the radar screen of the big movie and TV studios.
The industry is charging that Simon has committed massive copyright infringement by recording TV shows online and is asking for up to $150,000 per work copied and distributed.
"Simon, willingly and knowingly, has built a business based on offering its customers access to valuable stolen property," Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement today. "One hundred percent of the profits are made from offering popular television programs and movies that RecordTV has obtained no right to copy or display or have any part in distributing."
The lawsuit marks the latest move in the film industry's mounting efforts to block online business models that it believes take distribution of TV or movies out of studios' or broadcasters' hands.
Along with the legal artillery leveled at iCraveTV earlier this year, the industry has lobbied hard in Washington to keep Web companies from being given the right to rebroadcast TV programs. Companies such as Yahoo and America Online have kept lawmakers from blocking them entirely from this right, but the battle on Capitol Hill is still raging.
Simon said he had hoped to avoid a lawsuit with his service, as he had tailored it to have no more features than an ordinary VCR. He's now studying the lawsuit to determine what to do, he said.
"Right now we have exactly zero funding," he said. "I don't want to have to fight anything with them."
The industry has been unsympathetic toward anything other than complete blackouts in the past, however. iCraveTV was forced to pull the plug on its service altogether unless it could prove it was not serving U.S. visitors, a difficult fact to establish on the Internet.
In its lawsuit against RecordTV, the industry cites dozens of films and shows that have been copied, from James Bond movies to TV shows "Cheers" and "Frasier."
"RecordTV.com and Mr. Simon have taken what is not theirs, duplicated it, and distributed it for their own commercial gain to millions of Internet users around the world," the suit charges.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles federal court.