Aereo Wins Yet Another Ruling Over TV Networks
from the in-a-different-circuit dept
Aereo, the company that provides remote access to over-the-air TV via a series of antennas, has won yet another legal battle against television stations. As you may recall, there are a series of lawsuits by the TV networks against Aereo (and a weak competitor called FilmOn). Aereo was designed quite carefully to remain within the (somewhat insane) rules of copyright law, and so far that’s been clear as it’s won all of the cases against it so far. In the 2nd circuit (in NY) Aereo won at both the district court and appeals court levels. Just this week it’s been noted that the broadcasters are likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.
But the NY fight is hardly the only one. Aereo was also sued in Boston by the Hearst Corporation (and, just this week, it was also sued in Utah). In the Massachusetts case, Aereo sought to have the case transferred to New York, noting that it was basically the same case it had won on in NY. And, like in all the other cases, Hearst Corporation, who owns some broadcast networks, argued for an injunction barring Aereo from operating. Today a judge denied both of those requests, noting that while the law is anything but clear, Aereo’s interpretation of it makes much more sense.
In short, while the Transmit Clause is not a model of clarity, the Court finds at this juncture that Aereo presents the more plausible interpretation. As such, Hearst has not persuaded the Court that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its public performance claim.
Also, as in the NY rulings, the court here has found little evidence of irreparable harm if Aereo is left to remain in service:
While the prospect of harm is real, Hearst has not shown that WCVB will suffer the “full magnitude” of the claimed harm before the Court disposes of the case on the merits. Instead, it seems more likely that the harm will take several years to materialize….
Next, Hearst has not made a convincing showing that WCVB will be irreparably harmed in its ability to generate advertising revenue. Hearst’s claim that WCVB will not be able to measure viewers who access its programming through Aereo is simply not true. Nielsen, one of the main organizations tracking viewership for such purposes, announced in February, 2013, that it is beginning to include online viewership in its viewership totals.
Similarly, Hearst’s claim that Aereo’s services threaten its prospects of profiting from putting its programs online does not meet the standard for irreparable harm because WCVB’s plans to put programming online are insufficiently developed.
As with the recent rulings against the networks concerning Dish’s AutoHopper commercial skipping technology, it’s good to see more courts recognizing how to properly apply the irreparable harm standard.
Of course, as we’ve noted, Aereo’s copycat, FilmOn, from wacky, publicity-seeking billionaire Alki David, which was put together sloppily in a weak attempt to copy Aereo, but without the same level of careful consideration of the complex situation in copyright law, keeps losing in court. The broadcasters (except for that case in Utah) seem a lot more focused on racking up more victories against FilmOn/Alki David, but that’s actually why I think the judge’s denial of Aereo’s attempt to move this case to NY is a good thing. Having multiple good rulings that protect this kind of innovation in different circuits is a helpful thing.