Finding Infringement, Court Halts T.V. Streaming Service
A Washington, D.C. federal judge on Thursday halted the operations of FilmOn, a controversial online television streaming service. The judge found the television broadcast networks suing FilmOn X LLC for copyright infringement were likely to succeed.
The networks accused FilmOn of "exploiting…some of the most valuable intellectual property created in the United States" by allowing users to stream live television programs online. The plaintiffs, including major broadcast networks ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, sought an injunction last month. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, in Fox Television Stations v. FilmOn X, l:13-cv-00758, concluded that FilmOn was retransmitting copyrighted material in violation of federal law. She granted the network's request for a preliminary injunction.
The injunction applies across the United States, with the exception of the boundaries of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit—which includes New York, Connecticut and Vermont, where the networks lost a bid in April for an injunction against a similar streaming service called Aereo (NYLJ, April 2).
FilmOn founder Alki David said that he planned to appeal.
"They granted it? Well then it was rigged, as I said the first I heard they were suing in DC," he said in an email. "Certain individuals connected with the supposed random judge selection process always get their first round. We will appeal and win." David is represented by Baker Marquart in Los Angeles.
The case in Washington is the latest to test the legality of online streaming services. After the networks failed to secure an injunction against Aereo in the Second Circuit, the appeals court recently denied their petition for a rehearing. In a trial court in California, the networks secured a limited injunction blocking another streaming service from operating within the Ninth Circuit's boundaries. (That decision is now on appeal in the Ninth Circuit.)
Besides the major television networks, the plaintiffs also include Telemundo, Disney and local affiliates of the networks that air programming around the Washington region. A spokesman for Fox said in an email that they were "pleased, but not surprised that the court recognized that the commercial retransmission of our broadcast signal without permission or compensation is a clear violation of the law."
The Fox plaintiffs are being represented by Jenner & Block partner Paul Smith, cochair of the firm's media and First Amendment practice. Arnold & Porter intellectual property partner Robert Garrett is lead counsel for the other plaintiffs.
According to filings, FilmOn uses tiny antennas to capture signals from television networks in local markets and makes the content available for streaming online, for a fee. (Aereo relies on a similar arrangement of individually-assigned antennas.) The networks say they never gave FilmOn a license to distribute copyrighted programs.
FilmOn has argued that its service was similar to "rabbit ear" antennae that captured broadcasts on traditional television sets. Since the networks were required by federal law to make broadcasts available for free, FilmOn accused the networks of trying to block public access.