The decision, issued today by U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball, marked the first courtroom defeat for the Barry Diller-backed startup. Kimball's ruling -- effective in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana -- prohibits Aereo from streaming TV shows to users' iPads, iPhones and other devices.
“The court concludes that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their copyright infringement claims and that plaintiffs will be irreparably harmed if a preliminary injunction does not issue,” Kimball wrote in the 26-page decision.
Aereo, like the rival service FilmOn X, allows users to stream over-the-air TV shows to mobile devices and other computers. The services also allow people to “record” shows for later viewing. Broadcasters are suing both companies for allegedly infringing copyright by retransmitting programs without licenses.
But the startups say they're legal due to their design, which relies on miniature antennas to capture and stream the shows. The companies argue that they merely provide the technology to enable consumers to timeshift and device-shift television programs.
District court judges in New York and Boston rejected broadcasters' attempts to shut down Aereo. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals -- the only appellate court to consider the issue to date -- also ruled that Aereo could continue to operate. Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the broadcasters' appeal of that ruling.
Aereo had asked Kimball to put the Utah case on hold, pending a Supreme Court decision, which is expected in June. Kimball stayed the lawsuit today, but only after banning the company from continuing to operate. Kimball's decision to move forward with an injunction is somewhat surprising, given that the Supreme Court will decide once and for all whether Aereo's service is legal. If that court rules in Aereo's favor, the injunction issued today will be lifted.
But Kimball said in his ruling that he believed not only that Aereo infringed copyright by transmitting TV shows, but that the company should be immediately stopped.
“If Aereo were permitted to continue to infringe plaintiffs’ copyrights during the pendency of this litigation, Aereo’s infringement will interfere with plaintiffs’ relationships and negotiations with legitimate licensees, impede and effect plaintiff’s negotiations with advertisers, unfairly siphon viewers from plaintiffs’ own websites ... and cause plaintiffs to lose control of quality and potential piracy of its programming,” Kimball wrote. “All of these potential harms are intangible factors that support a finding of irreparable harm.”