A U.S. District Court judge has ruled in favor of the controversial Internet TV service, Aereo, in a lawsuit filed by a Boston TV station, a decision that doesn’t bode well for two Salt Lake City TV stations that have filed similar suits against the company.
Meanwhile, the major broadcast networks including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, who are involved in another lawsuit against Aereo have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to get involved in the fight.
Aereo, which recently launched in Salt Lake, is a new Internet-based television service that beams local channels to customers’ desktop computers and mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad. The service costs either $8 or $12 per month and gives customers 29 television channels.
The service also has been launched in New York City, Atlanta and Boston and is expected to appear in up to 20 more cities by the end of the year.
Boston ABC affiliate, WCVB, and its parent company, Hearst Corp., filed a preliminary injunction last summer to stop Aereo from transmitting there, claiming the service violates copyright law and interferes with the station’s ability to make money.
But U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton of Massachusetts ruled that, “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.’”
The decision is the latest in a series of court rulings that favor Aereo. The company also successfully fended off a lawsuit filed by major television networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and Fox, alleging the company was infringing on their copyrights. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court ruling that the service does not violate copyright laws pertaining to the public performance of a television signal. The U.S. Supreme Court petition filed Friday by the major networks asks the court to overturn the 2-to-1 Court of Appeals ruling. There is no guarantee the higher court will hear the case.
The Boston ruling is likely to affect the outcome of a new federal lawsuit filed against Aereo by the two Salt Lake TV stations, KUTV Channel 2 and KSTU Channel 13. Both are arguing that Aereo also infringes on their copyrights. That suit, which was filed Monday, is asking a federal judge to grant an injunction against Aereo and for the company to pay damages.
The Boston ruling and the Court of Appeals decision are likely to make the legal challenge by KSTU and KUTV more difficult.
“Today’s decision, coupled with the decisions in favor of Aereo in the Southern District of New York (July 11, 2013) and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, shows that when you comply not only with the letter but the spirit of the law, justice will prevail,” Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia said in a statement. “Today’s victory belongs to the consumer, and today’s decision makes clear that there is no reason that consumers should be limited to 1950s technology to access over-the-air broadcast television.”
Aereo believes it is circumventing copyright law with its technology because it uses an array of tens of thousands of dime-sized mini antennas in which each antenna is paired with one customer. The TV signal is picked up over the air with these antennas and then transmitted over the Internet to the customers.