Networks Prevail in Long Fight With Online TV Service

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The major television networks scored an appeals court victory Tuesday in a closely watched case that pitted them against an online platform that streamed shows without broadcasters’ permission.

The major broadcast networks FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS have fought the pay-to-view platform FilmOn X in the courts for close to five years. Tuesday’s ruling marked another legal setback for FilmOn X after the U.S. Supreme Court shot down a similar online platform in 2014.

FilmOn X argued that it was a cable system under the Copyright Act of 1976, and that it should be allowed to obtain a compulsory license to retransmit the networks’ content. It said ruling in the broadcasters’ favor would dampen innovation and new technology.

But the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit agreed with the networks that FilmOn could not duck the law by calling itself a cable provider and reversed U.S. District Judge George Wu. In a partial 2015 ruling, Wu said FilmOn X could call itself a cable system under copyright law.

“FilmOn and other internet-based retransmission services are neither clearly eligible nor clearly ineligible for the compulsory license,” Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote in the court’s 25-page opinion. “The Copyright Office says they are not eligible. Because the office’s views are persuasive, and because they are reasonable, we defer to them.”

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against another burgeoning online platform called Aereo, which allowed subscribers to watch live TV on their phones, computers and tablets using a mini-antenna technology.

The Supreme Court ruling spelled doom for Aereo’s business, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late 2014. The DVR company TiVo later acquired it in a $1 million deal.

Aereo said TiVo had embraced Aereo’s over-the-air broadcast technology in an “even better way” with the product TiVo Bolt, a set-top box that allows users to combine over-the-air programming and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Circuit Judges Johnnie Rawlinson and Consuelo María Callahan joined O’Scannlain’s opinion.

Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice came to a similar conclusion in the case of the internet streaming service TV Catchup, which is embroiled in a long-running dispute with British networks.

TV Catchup fell back on a subsection of British copyright law which permits retransmission by cable to users in the region where the original broadcast was made. The EU high court ruled that even if TV Catchup could be called a cable network, member states aren’t allowed to create legislation permitting rebroadcasts without permission of the networks.


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