Several weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge George Wu in Los Angeles issued a surprise decision in a long-simmering dispute between Web company FilmOn and a coalition of TV broadcasters: Wu ruled that online streaming company FilmOn X potentially is entitled to a cable license.
If Wu's ruling is upheld, it could go a long way toward changing how people access television shows. After all, if independent Web companies can offer the same programs as cable and satellite providers, but at cheaper rates, there aren't many reasons for consumers to continue paying for cable video.
Not surprisingly, a coalition of TV broadcasters recently urged the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to appeal Wu's decision.
On Thursday, FilmOn said it didn't oppose that request. "Although respondents disagree with petitioners’ presentation in their petition, respondents do not oppose the certification of this appeal," FilmOn wrote in papers filed with the appellate court. The company added that it wants the 9th Circuit to uphold Wu's opinion.
FilmOn, owned by billionaire Alki David, has spent years fighting for the right to stream current TV programs directly to consumers. Initially, the company used a system similar to that of defunct streaming video distributor ivi TV, which used the Internet to stream programs worldwide. Like ivi, FilmOn X argued that it should be considered a "cable system," and entitled to a compulsory license.
The company lost that battle in 2012, when the 2nd Circuit ruled that ivi wasn't a cable system because it didn't limit its streams to specific geographic locales. The appellate court said in its decision that compulsory licenses are only available to systems that transmit shows to restricted markets.
FilmOn then re-launched using the same system as Aereo -- also now defunct. That platform relied on individual mini-antennas to capture over-the-air shows in particular locales and stream them to consumers.
FilmOn says it authenticated people's geo-locations, and only streamed programs to people who could have received them over-the-air.
Aereo and FilmOn both stopped streaming unlicensed programs last year, soon after the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo infringed copyright by transmitting TV shows without a license. Aereo suspended operations altogether, but FilmOn still streams programs in the public domain as well as shows it licenses.
Even though FilmOn stopped offering many television programs, the company continued to battle the broadcasters in court. The company argued that it should now be considered a cable system given the Supreme Court's ruling -- which said the company's platform was "for all practical purposes a traditional cable system."
Wu said in his ruling that he agrees with FilmOn on that point, writing that the Supreme Court's characterization of the technology is "about as close a statement directly in defendants' favor as could be made."
The 9th Circuit hasn't yet said whether it will hear the broadcasters' appeal.