A district court judge has pulled the plug in Utah on the Internet television service Aereo.
U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball ruled that the controversial TV service, in which subscribers get local television signals streamed to their computer or mobile devices, violates copyright law and must cease operation in Utah.
The judge also ruled that a current lawsuit filed against Aereo last fall by local broadcasters, KTVX Channel 4, KUCW Channel 30, KSTU Channel 13 and KUTV Channel 2, will be placed on hold pending the outcome of another case against Aereo that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in April. A decision on that case could come as soon as the summer.
"He [the judge] felt that rather than have people going ahead with the litigation here and with the [U.S. Supreme Court] case four months away, we would wait for what the Supreme Court does," said Rodney R. Parker, attorney for Nextar Broadcasting, the owners of KTVX and KUCW.
That means in the meantime, Aereo must immediately shut down operations in the states that the 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over, including Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Currently, of those states, Aereo operates only in Utah and Colorado. It operates in 10 markets total across the United States.
Calls to Aereo and to attorneys representing the company were not returned Wednesday. A Salt Lake City attorney for Aereo, Jess Krannich, declined to comment Wednesday.
In a 26-page ruling released Wednesday, Kimball argued that Aereo violates The Copyright Act of 1976 because it is beaming TV signals to paid subscribers without paying royalties to the broadcasters, which in this case is the local television stations and their parent companies.
"This court concludes that Aereo is engaging in copyright infringement of Plaintiffs’ programs," the judge wrote in the ruling. "Despite its attempt to design a device or process outside the scope of the 1976 Copyright Act, Aereo’s device or process transmits Plaintiffs’ copyrighted programs to the public."
Aereo believes it circumvents copyright law in the way its technology works. The New York City-based company has developed a process in which each market that has the service uses a large array of dime-sized antennas that pick up the over-the-air TV broadcasts. Each antenna is used by only one customer, and the TV signals are then sent to the subscriber’s computer or mobile device via the Internet. The service, which launched in Utah last August, costs $8 or $12 per month and allows you to view 29 of Utah’s over-the-air TV broadcasts. The service also includes a digital video recording function that allows you to save programs in the cloud.
The service has been the subject of other lawsuits. 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 violated copyright law and interferes with the station’s ability to make money. But a U.S. District Court judge ruled last October in favor of Aereo.
Aereo also successfully fought off a preliminary injunction filed by major television networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and Fox. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court ruling that Aereo does not violate copyright laws pertaining to the public performance of a television signal. The service was allowed to continue to operate.
Last month, however, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case against Aereo filed by the major broadcasters.
In addition to ruling on the preliminary injunction stopping Aereo from operating in Utah, Kimball also ruled Wednesday that the case filed by the local broadcasters will remain in Utah and not move to New York City.
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