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New lawsuit targets Net's iCraveTV

Adding new weight to the Net TV start-up's legal woes, a group of Canadian broadcasters are suing the small company.

Adding new weight to iCraveTV.com's legal woes, a group of Canadian broadcasters sued the Net TV start-up today.

The beleaguered company, which wants to offer live television shows online, was already ordered by a U.S. judge last Friday to take its service off the Net. Since late November, the company had been showing live, uncut broadcasts of 17 U.S. and Canadian stations on its Web site.

The Canadian broadcasters Online TV may spark Net battle say iCraveTV had violated their copyrights by showing their content online without permission. The group is asking for $75 million in damages and another $1.1 million a day if iCraveTV goes back online.

"(iCraveTV chief executive) Bill Craig has no place left to hide," Michael McCabe, president and chief executive of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement. "The full weight of Canadian and American law is now being brought to bear against him and his renegade operation."

iCraveTV is proving to be an uncomfortable test case for what is likely to be a continuing tense relationship between traditional broadcasters and ambitious new online companies. It's the first North American company that has tried to show uncut broadcast television stations online; and the outcome of its various legal cases will likely prove a lasting precedent for the Net television industry.

Craig launched the company last year believing that Canadian law allowed him to retransmit the broadcasters' programming without permission, just as cable and satellite TV companies can in that country. He has said he is willing to pay into a copyright fund for use of the programming, as do the other mediums.

But TV stations, networks and copyright holders on both sides of the border pointedly contended with his efforts. U.S. movie studios and TV networks sued first; then were joined in a separate suit by the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. In their suit, the U.S. broadcasters called the iCraveTV site "one of the largest and most brazen thefts of intellectual property every committed in the United States."

Last Friday, a federal judge in Pittsburgh, Penn., agreed that the broadcasters and sports leagues had a good chance of being proven right in court, and ordered iCraveTV to stop providing access to U.S. citizens immediately, pending a full trial. Lacking a technological way to keep U.S. residents out, iCraveTV temporarily shut the site altogether.

iCraveTV could not be reached for comment. On Friday, Craig released a statement that said the company was complying with the U.S. judge's order and "considering all of our strategic, technological and legal options."

Today's lawsuit was jointly filed by the CTV, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada, WIC Western International Communications, Rogers Broadcasting and CHUM Limited.