A US District Court in Utah has ruled that Internet TV streaming service Aereo violates copyright law and must cease operation in Utah.
Judge Dale A. Kimball also ruled that a current lawsuit filed against Aereo Autumn 2013 by local broadcasters, KTVX Channel 4, KUCW Channel 30, KSTU Channel 13 and KUTV Channel 2, will be placed on hold pending the outcome of another case against Aereo that will be argued before the US. Supreme Court in April.
The result is that Barry Diller-backed Aereo must immediately shut down operations in the states that the 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over, including Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Currently, of those states, Aereo operates only in Utah and Colorado. It operates in 10 markets total across the United States.
In a 26-page ruling, Kimball argued that Aereo violates The Copyright Act of 1976 because it is beaming TV signals to paid subscribers without paying royalties to the broadcasters, which in this case is the local television stations and their parent companies.
“This court concludes that Aereo is engaging in copyright infringement of Plaintiffs’ programs,” he wrote. “Despite its attempt to design a device or process outside the scope of the 1976 Copyright Act, Aereo’s device or process transmits Plaintiffs’ copyrighted programs to the public.”
Aereo contends that it circumvents copyright law in the way its technology works, whereby the service uses a large array of small antennas that pick up the over-the-air TV broadcasts. Each antenna is used by only one customer, and the TV signals are then sent to the subscriber’s computer or mobile device via the Internet.
The service has been the subject of other lawsuits. Boston ABC affiliate, WCVB, and its parent company, Hearst Corp., filed a preliminary injunction in the summer of 2013 to stop Aereo from transmitting there, but in October 2013, a US District Court judge ruled in favour of Aereo.
Aereo has also successfully fought off a preliminary injunction filed by major television networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and Fox. The US Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court ruling that Aereo does not violate copyright laws pertaining to the public performance of a television signal. The service was allowed to continue to operate.
However, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case against Aereo filed by the major broadcasters, with the case set for April 22. Kimball also ruled that the case filed by the local broadcasters will remain in Utah and not move to New York City.
Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia said he was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling. In a statement on behalf of Aereo, he said: “We are extremely disappointed that the District Court in Utah has chosen to take a different path than every other Court that has reviewed the Aereo technology. Consumers have a fundamental right to watch over the air broadcast television via an antenna and to record copies for their personal use. The Copyright Act provides no justification to curtail that right simply because the consumer is using modern, remotely located equipment. We are very sorry for the effect on our valued customers in the Tenth Circuit and we will pursue all available remedies to restore their ability to use Aereo.”