DirecTV Accuses TVEyes Of Obtaining Satellite Service Under False Pretenses

News broadcasters aren't the only ones targeting television monitoring service TVEyes. Satellite provider DirecTV also is going after the company.

In a lawsuit filed this week, DirecTV alleges that TVEyes violates a federal law by transmitting clips from news programs without the satellite provider's authorization.

DirecTV also says its contract with commercial subscribers restricts their ability to exhibit programs. For instance, commercial account holders must agree that any programming “will be exhibited in its entirety, in original form and in the manner provided by DirecTV, without any modifications, additions or deletions,” the complaint alleges.

“DirectTV brings this action against defendant TVEyes ... for obtaining DirecTV satellite television programming by false pretenses, recording that programming on equipment and for purposes not authorized by DirecTV, and retransmitting and distributing that programming to TVEyes’ customers, in violation of DirecTV’s subscriber terms and federal law,” DirecTV says in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. 

DirecTV says in its lawsuit that it identified nine commercial accounts believed to have been used by TVEyes between June of 2006 and July of 2014. The satellite provider argues in its complaint that those accounts were used to exhibit programs in a way it hadn't authorized. TVEyes “caused significant and irreparable harm” by depriving DirecTV of subscriber and pay-per-view revenue, the satellite company says.

TVEyes enables subscribers to its $500-a-month service to search for programs by keywords, view snippets and download and share clips. To accomplish this, TV Eyes records every program broadcast on more than 1,400 TV and radio stations.

DirecTV's lawsuit comes several months after TVEyes won a significant victory in federal court in New York, where Fox News Network alleged that TVEyes infringed copyright by digitizing news programs.

U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan ruled in September that TVEyes' indexing and clipping service was “transformative,” and therefore a fair use, because it serves a different function from the original broadcasts.

“Without TVEyes, there is no other way to sift through more than 27,000 hours of programming broadcast on television daily, most of which is not available online or anywhere else, to track and discover information,” Hellerstein wrote of the service. “The White House uses TVEyes to evaluate news stories and give feedback to the press corps,” Hellerstein wrote. “The United States Army uses TVEyes to track media coverage of military operations in remote locations, to ensure national security and the safety of American troops,” he added.

Hellerstein hasn't yet ruled on whether TVEyes also can let users download and share clips.

Last week, CNN, CBS, NBCUniversal and others asked Hellerstein to rule against TVEyes on that point. They argue that the outcome of the lawsuit could affect all media companies that rely on licensing deals and ad sales to support their news operations.

“Segments downloaded from TVEyes do not provide analytics to the content owner about the number of views or shares -- vital currency for digital publishers who carefully track uptake of content in order to set advertising rates,” the broadcasters argued. “Nor can the content owner display advertising or otherwise receive revenue from the public display of its copyrighted content when downloaded through TVEyes.”

Meanwhile, a coalition including The Nation's former editor and publisher Victor Navasky, The Nation columnist Eric Alterman, media company Brave New Films and media-watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting are siding with TVEyes.

They say that it's no longer possible for media watchdogs to monitor the news without a service like TVEyes.

“Today, absent the mass digitization of television content, there is no feasible way for media critics to capture and present a comprehensive view of all of the content being broadcast to the news-consuming public,” TVEyes' supporters argued.

Hellerstein is expected to hold a hearing in that matter in July.

But DirecTV's new lawsuit indicates that even if TVEyes wins its battle with the news networks, its service could still face a host of legal challenges from other companies.

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