WASHINGTON — In a key victory for television broadcasters, a federal court has ordered a Seattle start-up called ivi Inc. to stop distributing broadcast signals over the Internet without their consent.

The U.S. District Court in New York issued a preliminary injunction against ivi on Tuesday barring the company from streaming copyright-protected broadcast programming online.

Ivi captures over-the-air broadcast signals from stations in Seattle, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and delivers them to subscribers who have downloaded its ivi TV player, which costs $4.99 a month.

The company is being sued for copyright infringement by the big broadcast networks, local stations in New York and Seattle, public broadcasters, several large movie studios and Major League Baseball.

Ivi said it will shut down its broadcast channel offerings while it appeals the court ruling.

“The oppressive big media networks must open their doors to innovators or they will inevitably fall,” the company said in a statement. “People want responsible choice, not the one-size-fits-all television offerings imposed by powerful media interests.”

Ivi appeals for support

In a statement posted at its website, the company appealed for support:

“Today the Southern District Court of New York granted a preliminary injunction in the case 1:10-cv-07415-NRB. We will be appealing the decision in the second circuit but in the interim we must shut-down most of our broadcast channel offerings.

“We believe the court made an error in the ruling and will be appealing the decision supported by many public interest groups. But we cannot do it alone. In return, we ask that you support them. If you can, visit Public Knowledge and/or EFF to leave a donation.

“In the interim we are suspending invoicing for ivi Air and ivi Pro, so it is not necessary to cancel subscriptions. As soon as we can restore the channels we will resume the subscriptions from that point forward.

“We will continue to carry a number of channels and will be adding channels from broadcasters and content providers as we grow.”

Court: Ivi not cable

In court, ivi has argued that it is entitled to the same rights to distribute broadcast programming that federal copyright law automatically grants cable TV operators.

Tuesday’s court ruling rejected that reasoning, concluding that ivi does not qualify as a cable system.

The National Association of Broadcasters said it welcomed the decision.

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