Cable Technology Feature Article
In Boston, Aereo Wins Another Legal Battle as a Fresh One Brews in Utah
By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor
Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed over-the-top (OTT) video streaming company, has won a legal challenge in Boston, just as it undertakes a new challenge in Utah.
Aereo is facing lawsuits from content companies and broadcasters that are claiming copyright infringement because they allege that the company retransmits local TV affiliate feeds via the Internet without paying retransmission fees. Aereo has counter-argued that because it provides dime-sized antennae to its subscribers—who pay $8 per month for access to a couple dozen channels—it constitutes an over-the-air, rabbit-ears based service, which is exempt from retrans. It has also argued that its content is delivered to a single cloud-based DVR device for one subscriber and can therefore not be categorized as a public broadcast service, subject to fees and regulations.
So far, it has succeeded in its arguments, winning legal challenges in a handful of cases.
In Boston, Federal Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton issued a ruling in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts in a suit brought by Hearst Stations on behalf of its local TV station, WCVB-TV. The judge denied the plaintiff its motion for a preliminary injunction against Aereo.
In his decision, Judge Gorton concluded, “After considering the relevant factors, the Court finds that a preliminary injunction is unwarranted. Hearst has not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits nor the requisite irreparable harm and therefore it is not entitled to that ‘extraordinary and drastic remedy.’”
He added, “Hearst fails to make a sufficient showing that it is likely to prevail on any of [its] claims and therefore this factor weighs against a preliminary injunction in its favor.”
In addition to the Court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, however, the court also denied Aereo’s motion to transfer the case to New York, where Aereo has won the right to exist. There, a panel of judges for the 2nd Circuit have ruled that Aereo did not violate copyright law—and a review of the decision by the full court was denied. In Boston though, the issue will drag on.
Meanwhile, Fox Broadcasting Co., Sinclair Broadcast Group and Local TV filed suit in federal court in Utah against Aereo in U.S. District Court. The plaintiffs in Utah said that "no amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo changes the fundamental principle of law that those who wish to retransmit copyrighted broadcasts may do so only with the copyright owners' authority."
Predictably, Aereo fired back: "All this meritless suit amounts to is forum shopping and we are hopeful that any such efforts to commence duplicative lawsuits to try to seek a different outcome will be rejected by the courts,” said Aereo spokeswoman Virginia Lam, in a statement.
FOX has said that if it continues to lose, it will consider seeking a hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court and proceeding to a full trial on the merits of the case.
Edited by Blaise McNamee