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Aereo legal fight about the future of broadcasters and online video

Screen grab of Aereo's website, which launched two weeks ago, but is available by invitation only. Subscribers pay $12 per month and get access to 27 locally broadcast TV channels through the Web browsers of their Apple devices. It's set to open up to more subscribers on March 14. Aereo says the suits are groundless and it looks forward to “a full and fair airing of the issues.”

Aereo Inc., an online television service backed by billionaire Barry Diller that is preparing to launch on Wednesday, filed a countersuit against broadcasters that are seeking to stop retransmission of their programming by Aereo.

The company filed its countersuit 11 days after broadcasters and local TV stations sued for an injunction to stop Aereo from retransmitting their programs to phones, tablet computers and other devices. Some of the broadcasters also sought financial damages.

Aereo said its technology lets viewers "do no more than what they are entitled to do." Subscribers, it said, can watch broadcast TV programs by using individual antennas, and record and play back those programs for their own personal use.

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The countersuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Monday, in a case brought by Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, CBS Corp, Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal and Telemundo, and others.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said Aereo "is based on the illegal use of our content. Beyond that, we believe the complaint speaks for itself."

CBS and NBCUniversal had no immediate comment.

Aereo did not file a counterclaim in a second lawsuit, which was brought by broadcasters including News Corp's Fox, Univision Communications Inc and the Public Broadcasting Service.

Aereo also said it has not received any formal notice from broadcasters that it should abandon the planned March 14 launch. The company plans to roll out its service in the New York metropolitan area. Aereo is based in Manhattan.

In a statement, Aereo said it hopes to promptly resolve the broadcasters' "meritless lawsuits."

Aereo was announced on Feb. 14, with $20.5-million of financing led by IAC/InterActiveCorp, an entertainment and technology company whose businesses include and Citysearch.

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It advertises itself as a "potentially transformative" service that would complement Google Inc.'s YouTube, Netflix Inc and other services that let viewers watch programming online.

Broadcasters, however, counter that Aereo's planned "antenna farms" deprive them of their right to retransmission fees from cable and other companies that rebroadcast their programs.

When it announced the service, Aereo said members would get a 30-day free trial and pay a monthly membership fee of $12.

Diller is a self-made media mogul worth $1.6-billion, Forbes magazine said last week.

The cases are American Broadcasting Cos. et al v. Aereo Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-01540; and WNET et al v. Aereo Inc in the same court, No. 12-01543.

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