Boston Judge Rejects Hearst's Request To Shutter Aereo

Siding with Aereo, a federal judge has rejected Hearst's request to shutter the streaming video service.

U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston said in the ruling that Hearst, which owns the ABC affiliate WCVB, is unlikely to prove that Aereo infringes copyright by streaming TV shows to its subscribers. Gorton also ruled that Hearst hadn't shown that an injunction against Aereo was necessary to prevent “irreparable injury.”

Aereo offers paying subscribers the ability to stream over-the-air TV programs to iPads, iPhones and other devices. The Barry Diller-backed company also offers DVR functionality, allowing subscribers to record shows and stream them later.

Hearst, like other TV broadcasters, contends that Aereo infringes copyright by publicly performing television shows without a license. Aereo counters that its service is legal due to its architecture. The company installs thousands of tiny antennas in local warehouses, then uses those antennas to capture over-the-air broadcasts and stream them to users. Aereo argues its streams are not “public” performances -- which would violate the copyright law -- but private ones.

Gorton agreed with Aereo on that point, ruling that the company's interpretation of the law “is a better reading” of the copyright statute than the TV broadcasters' interpretation.

TV broadcasters have sued Aereo in federal court in New York and Utah. The broadcasters have so far lost in New York, where the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge's decision to allow the service to continue operating. The Utah case was just filed several days ago and hasn't yet yielded any rulings.

But two judges in other parts of the country -- Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. -- have sided against an Aereo rival, FilmOn X, which uses the same technology as Aereo. U.S. District Court Judge George Wu in California issued an order banning FilmOn X from operating in nine Western states, while U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer banned the company from operating anywhere in the country except for New York, Connecticut and Vermont. FilmOn X has appealed both rulings.

As for Aereo, the recent ruling in the company's favor should give it a boost in any future cases, according to James Grimmelmann, a University of Maryland law professor: “At some point, a judge looks at its string of victories and thinks, enough is enough.



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