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Judge backs Univision in Internet trial

Televisa to appeal ruling

A U.S. district court judge has ruled in favor of Univision, deciding that its current programming license agreement (PLA) with Televisa prevents the latter from broadcasting online in the U.S.

The ruling by Judge Philip S. Gutierrez in a Los Angeles court Friday should bring to an end Univision’s years-long legal feud with Mexican media giant Televisa.

The dispute was the last sticking point to a larger lawsuit settled mostly out of court on Jan. 22. Televisa had charged Univision with material breach of contract, claiming $134 million in unpaid royalties, and sought to end the 25-year programming pact, which expires in 2017.

Leaving only the Internet question unresolved, the parties agreed to amend their agreement with concessions on both sides after an all-night bargaining session between Televisa exec VP Alfonso de Angoitia and Univision chairman Haim Saban, who leads the consortium that acquired Univision in 2006.

Televisa’s chairman-CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean, who had been set to testify just before that settlement abruptly ended the trial, finally appeared before a judge last month to testify in support of the conglom’s claim. In that testimony, he conceded that the definition of “broadcast” included the Internet.

However, his argument rested with a “spillover” clause addressing broadcasts coming from the Mexican side of the border, saying this would allow transmissions via Internet if originating from Mexico or satellites transmitting Internet content to Mexican networks.

“If you would think that a 500-mile spillover would be spillover (under the disputed contract provision), then I would agree with you,” Azcarraga testified.

Judge Gutierrez did not agree with the argument. In the ruling, he wrote: “The plain language of the 2001 PLA bars Televisa from transmitting programs licensed to Univision to the U.S. via the Internet.”

He posited that the spillover provision was meant to recognize the practical limitations of exclusivity with Mexican TV affiliates on the border and determined the clause was enacted “to grant Univision as close to an exclusive on Televisa’s programs as the U.S. government would allow.”

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