Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Court Ruling Revives Possibility of Live Internet Broadcast T.V.

You might remember Aereo, the Internet startup that allowed individuals to watch broadcast T.V., including local programming, online. Traditional broadcasters and cable companies hated it and sued. The case eventually ended up before the Supreme Court, where Aereo lost. The company filed for bankruptcy just a few months later.

But the dream of Internet-based television didn't die with Aereo. Other companies, including FilmOn X, are picking up Aereo's model and are surviving court challenges, at least for now.

Micro-Antennas, Internet Streaming, and Copyright Claims

FilmOn X and Aereo were both founded by Internet entrepreneur Alki David, who was described by the Hollywood Reporter as "the billionaire Hollywood bad boy being sued by every T.V. network." Both companies operate on similar technology. The startups pick up network television broadcasts on individual micro-antennas, each about the size of a dime. In that way, they're similar to a traditional T.V. set that can tune into local broadcasts with a old-fashioned rabbit ears (and without a cable subscription). The online T.V. startups then stream that information to subscribers over the Internet, allowing you to watch the local news on your mobile phone, rather than through your T.V. set.

Broadcasters and cable companies had argued successfully that the startups violated their copyrights and threatened to ruin their ability to control subscription fees and generate advertising. The Supreme Court sided with the broadcasters, ruling that Aereo violated copyright laws when it rebroadcast shows online without a license.

A Victory in District Court

Aereo wasn't able to survive the Supreme Court ruling, but FilmOn X might. Judge George Wu of the Central District of California ruled in July that FilmOn X could be entitled to a compulsory license to retransmit broadcast T.V. under section 111 of the Copyright Act. That section allows cable companies to transmit copyrighted media without negotiating licenses with every rights holder -- as long as they follow certain rules and pay a set royalty fee.

Fox Networks, which had sued FilmOn X alongside NBC, ABC, and other major broadcasters, said that the opinion "contravenes all legal precedent," according to Reuters. That's only partly true. The district court's ruling definitely stands at odds with Aereo's last legal battle in the Second Circuit. The ruling does not contravene the Supreme Court's opinion, however, where Aereo argued that its technology kept it from being treated as a cable operator all together.

FilmOn X's victory could be fleeting, however. Acknowledging the impact the ruling could have on the T.V. and cable markets, Judge Wu authorized an immediate appeal to the Ninth Circuit, who should be hearing the case shortly.

Related Resources: