TV broadcasters notched a courtroom win Thursday when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against FilmOn X, barring the Aereo-like streaming service from retransmitting programming over the Internet.
"This Court concludes that the Copyright Act forbids FilmOn X from retransmitting Plaintiffs' copyrighted programs over the Internet," Judge Rosemary Collyer for the U.S. District Court of D.C. wrote in her 35-page decision (see below) granting broadcasters' motion for a preliminary injunction. "Plaintiffs are thus likely to succeed on their claim that FilmOn X violates Plaintiffs' exclusive public performance rights in their copyrighted works. Because there is no dispute of fact between the parties-- indeed, each has won and each has lost in a different forum on these same facts -- the Court will grant Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction."
Although broadcasters' arguments against Aereo have so far failed to win the support of courts, the four major national broadcast television networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC -- filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against FilmOn X in May in the D.C. court. Like Aereo, FilmOn X uses antenna/DVR technology to let consumers watch live, local over-the-air television broadcasts on some Internet-connected devices.
At least one of the plaintiffs said the decision should serve as a warning to other upstart TV streaming services.
"We are pleased, but not surprised, that that the court recognized that the commercial retransmission of our broadcast signal without permission or compensation is a clear violation of the law," Fox said in a statement. "This decision should finally put the matter to rest, and will hopefully discourage other illegal services from attempting to steal our content."
A spokesperson for CBS, which is CNET's parent company, said the network was pleased with the decision. An ABC spokesperson agreed.
"This decision is a further confirmation of our position that a commercial service that provides Internet retransmission of broadcast signals without permission is unlawful and violates our rights under the Copyright Act," Disney-owned ABC network said in a statement.
FilmOn X CEO Alki David told Deadline.com that he was confident his company will win in the long run.
"We will continue without the networks and appeal," David said. "We will win in the appeal."
Formerly known as Aereokiller and BarryDriller.com, FilmOn X launched in August 2012 as a rival to Aereo, which is backed by IAC Chairman Barry Diller (hence, the impetus behind FlimOn's previous names). Both companies, which do not pay retransmission licensing fees to the networks, argue that they are merely providing consumers with the individual antennas but not access to the content.
However, Collyer rejected that argument.
"This system, through which any member of the public who clicks on the link for the video feed, is hardly akin to an individual user stringing up a television antenna on the roof," she wrote in the decision. "FilmOn X, which is a commercial service retransmitting Plaintiffs' television performances, is in no meaningful way different from cable television companies, whose relationship with broadcasters such as Plaintiffs was the primary motivation for the 1976 [Copyright] Act's enactment."
The major networks originally sued FilmOn a week after the service launched and eventually won a preliminary injunction last December that prevented the service from retransmitting broadcasters' signals in California and other western states.
However, that decision, issued by U.S. District Judge George Wu, did not extend nationwide, covering only the states included in the geographic area served by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Today's decision by Collyer applies near nationwide, excluding only the states covered by the Second Circuit in the Northeast.
It's not immediately clear how Collyer's decision might affect Aereo, which recently won another court victory when the Second Circuit refused to rehear an earlier decision, allowing the service to continue in the New York City area.