Meet the billionaire the entire TV industry is suing

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Meet the billionaire the entire TV industry is suing

Tue Oct 05, 2010 @ 12:50PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

_45314403_alki Get ready for a spectacular legal brawl -- the big TV networks have just picked a fight with an eccentric billionaire.

On Friday, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against FilmOn.com, which offers subscribers who pay $9.99 a month access to live high definition feeds of TV online. The suit follows a battle with another online streaming outfit ivi, Inc., dual moves that indicate the major broadcast networks are starting to get aggressive in policing the Internet for unauthorized transmissions.

But what makes this new lawsuit one to watch is the identity of the defendant.

ImagesFilmOn.com isn't the typical website accused of piracy. 

The company was founded and is being run by billionaire Alki David, an eccentric business magnate who has done a lot of odd jobs in his life, from checking bottle caps at a Coca Cola plant in Nigeria to starring and directing in various feature films. He launched FilmOn overseas a few years ago with about $68 million in funding, and now the company is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange with a market cap of $567 million. Last week, the company announced its launch in the U.S.

David tells us that he has already hired lawyers and is "ready to bring it on."

"We are coming at this from a very pragmatic angle," he says. "We sincerely believe we have a rock solid case."

David, who was recently listed as one of the richest U.K. citizens by the Times of London, points out that the company is a a member of the National Association of Broadcasters and has just completed a deal with Comscore to supply analytics about TV watching habits. He says the company respects copyrights.

FilmOn made numerous attempts to communicate with the networks before the lawsuit was launched, says David, but they rebuffed him.

Without specifying exactly how his company plans to counter charges of copyright theft, David offers some hint that the company will argue it was authorized to make retransmissions, similar to ivi's defense.

"Without a doubt, the Copyright Act upholds what we are doing," he says. "There is no difference between the Internet and satellite. There's little difference between having a digital television box (and having television delivered through a computer). It's all just semantics. People need to stop being afraid of opening up doors to digital technology."

The networks are asking a New York federal court to enjoin FilmOn's activities. Here's the complaint.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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