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Broadcasters take Aereo battle to U.S. Supreme Court

By Erin Geiger Smith

(Reuters) - The four major broadcasters asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to hear their case against Aereo Inc, arguing the online television service steals copyrighted television content.

Walt Disney Co's ABC network, CBS Broadcasting Inc, Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal and Fox Television Stations Inc said in their court filing the court's "intervention is urgently needed." They said allowing Aereo to operate is, "already transforming the industry and threatening the very fundamentals of broadcast television."

The broadcasters are appealing an decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April that denied their request to shut Aereo while litigation moves forward.

A spokeswoman for Aereo said the company would "respond, as appropriate, in due course."

The Supreme Court will likely decide by the end of the year whether to take the case.

Aereo, backed by Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, charges users a low monthly fee to watch live or recorded broadcast TV channels on computers or mobile devices. Aereo does not pay the broadcasters.

The broadcasters claim the service violates their copyrights on the television programs, and say it as a threat to their ability to control subscription fees and generate advertising.

Aereo counters that its service does nothing more than provide users with what they could get with a personal television antenna.

Several lawsuits between Aereo and television providers are playing out across the country, including in federal courts in New York, Massachusetts and Utah. The Supreme Court appeal stems from the New York litigation.

This week, a Boston federal judge denied a request by Hearst Television Inc's local station, WCVB-TV, that Aereo be prevented from providing WCVB programs to subscribers while the lawsuit there is pending.

While the broadcasters have not had success so far against Aereo, they did convince a California federal court to force Aereo competitor FilmOn X to shut down while a lawsuit there goes forward.

FilmOn X appealed the lower court's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in the case in August but has not yet issued an opinion.

A Washington D.C. district court judge also ruled in September that FilmOn X must cease to operate everywhere in the country, not just the region covered by the 2nd Circuit, while the lawsuit brought by broadcasters there moves forward.

A spokesman for Fox said broadcasters "rely on enforcement of the law to receive fair value" for their programming, and the Supreme Court filing "underscores our resolve to see justice done."

A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment. ABC and CBS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting By Erin Geiger Smith. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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