The ruling allows Aereo to continue operating in Salt Lake City and Denver while it pursues an emergency appeal of an injunction that would have shut down the company in those cities. “The court ... finds some benefit in allowing Aereo’s customers uninterrupted service pending the Tenth Circuit’s decision on an emergency motion to stay,” U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball wrote in a six-page ruling issued earlier today.
Aereo streams over-the-air television programs to consumers iPads, iPhones and other devices. The company also enables people to “record” programs and watch them later. Broadcasters say Aereo is infringing copyright by transmitting programs without a license. But Aereo says it's legal due to its technological architecture, which relies on antennas to capture programs and then stream them to users.
Last week, Aereo suffered its first courtroom defeat when Kimball granted broadcasters' request to enjoin the Barry Diller-backed startup from operating in six states -- including Utah and Colorado, where the company already rolled out its streaming video service.
Aereo then asked Kimball to stay that ruling pending appeal to the 10th Circuit. Among other arguments, Aereo said that shutting down would confuse consumers, and also wouldn't be fair to people who have already signed up for the streaming service. “An injunction will cause great confusion in the minds of the general public on the basic legality of using a remote antenna to access free-to-air broadcast content and to make a personal copy of that broadcast content on their remotely located DVR, even in jurisdictions where the courts have explicitly endorsed Aereo’s legality,” the company wrote in its motion for a stay. “Consumers in this district who have signed up for Aereo, paid fees, and purchased devices (such as iPads) will be significantly harmed if they can no longer access over-the-air broadcast television with an Aereo antenna and DVR.”
The broadcasters had opposed Aereo's request, arguing that the company didn't offer any new theories to justify reconsideration of the order. “Aereo merely rehashes the identical evidence and arguments it made in opposition to the preliminary injunction motion,” the broadcasters wrote. “Where, as here, the defendant presents no new evidence that the court’s prior rulings are in error, but merely restates the same arguments, the motion for a stay should be denied.”
While today's ruling marks a victory for Aereo, the company didn't get everything it was asking for: It had sought a stay that would last while its appeal was pending in the 10th Circuit. Instead, Kimball's two-week delay means that Aereo will have to ask the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for another stay pending appeal.
Broadcasters have sued Aereo in New York, Boston and Utah; broadcasters also have sued Aereo rival FilmOn X -- which says it uses similar technology -- in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. The rulings have been mixed. Aereo prevailed at preliminary stages in New York and Boston, but broadcasters convinced judges in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. to prohibit FilmOn X from operating.
The Supreme Court recently agreed to step in and settle questions about Aereo's legality. That court will hear arguments in April, and is expected to issue a ruling by June.