Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia
Aereo, FilmOn, and the major TV broadcasters are in a seesaw legal contest in courtrooms around the country, but in Boston, Aereo appears to have the upper hand. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, who is overseeing the copyright complaint brought against Aereo by Hearst TV Stations, said yesterday that he's "inclined at this point" to rule in favor of the web TV service.
"I am inclined at this point to deny Hearst's motion for a preliminary injunction," Gorton said. "I am not convinced that Hearst has made a sufficient showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its copyright infringement claims...it is not at all clear how Channel 5 will be irreparably harmed by Aereo's activities in the absence of a preliminary injunction."
"I am not convinced that Hearst has made a sufficient showing."
Gorton made the comments prior to hearing oral arguments and it's possible the judge could change his mind. Gorton also said he was inclined to deny Aereo's request to transfer the case to New York, saying that since Hearst is only trying to stop web TV service from distributing its programming in Massachusetts, the case belongs there. The judge said he will issue his ruling by the end of the month. Spokespeople for Aereo and Hearst declined to comment.
Hearst's suit accuses Aereo of unlawfully distributing its programming, and is similar to the one brought last year against Aereo by two separate groups of broadcasters in New York district court. Aereo, which streams live TV over the internet, won there and later at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Elsewhere, the broadcasters have been much more successful against one of Aereo's rivals. The programmers won a favorable decision against FilmOn, formerly known as Aereokiller, in district court in California. The broadcasters prevailed again in a recent district court ruling in Washington DC. FilmOn appealed the California case and is waiting to get a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The conflicting rulings between the different circuits means the case could be headed to the Supreme Court, say legal scholars.
The broadcasters prevailed again in a recent district court ruling in Washington DC The broadcasters say Aereo and FilmOn snatch their programming without compensating creators and that their technologies are carefully-crafted ploys designed to skirt copyright law. Aereo and FilmOn employ tiny TV antennas to capture over-the-air broadcast signals and then distribute them over the internet. They argue that consumers have possessed the right to access TV via a pair of rabbit ears or roof aerial for decades, and their services aren't any different.
A growing number of companies have tried to find loopholes in the law that will allow them to distribute TV content without paying for it. Legal experts have said that technology has outpaced copyright law and the tech sector sees that broadcasters are vulnerable. But critics of the programmers say that to protect the status quo, they're trying to kill innovative new products that benefit consumers.