In a potential landmark ruling that could have a dramatic effect on the media landscape, a US federal judge has suggested that an online TV service should be treated like a traditional cable company. District Court Judge George W. Wu ruled that streaming company FilmOn could "potentially" be entitled to a compulsory license to retransmit broadcasters' copyrighted content — a privilege that has previously been denied to other internet streaming services including Ivi and Aereo. The advisory is not final however, and in recognition of its "significant commercial importance," Wu has submitted it to a higher court of appeal for further scrutiny.
"a win for technology and for the American public."
FilmOn's legal representation Ryan Baker told Reuters that the ruling was a "win for technology and for the American public." He added: "The broadcasters have been trying to keep their foot on the throat of innovation." A spokesperson for Fox Networks, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement that the "advisory opinion contravenes all legal precedent... The court only found that FilmOn could potentially qualify for a compulsory license, and we do not believe that is a possibility... We will of course appeal and fully expect to prevail."
Last year, traditional broadcasters won a large victory against internet rivals with a nationwide injunction against prominent streaming service Aereo. In past injunctions against similar services, judges have noted that allowing the retransmission of copyrighted content over the web could "threaten to destabilize the entire industry."
FilmOn currently remains under an injunction from 2012, but if Wu's decision is held up by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it should be able to legally retransmit broadcasters' content. The streaming service would have to meet certain requirements (such as paying royalties and submitting semi-annual statements, according to The Hollywood Reporter), but as Wu noted in his ruling, FilmOn has indicated that it's happy to "comply with any applicable regulations that arise out of this rulemaking."