Utah Federal Judge Halts Aereo in Salt Lake City and Denver

Aereo Judge
Oliver Munday

A federal judge in Utah has imposed a preliminary injunction on Aereo’s operations, a win for broadcasters as they seek to halt the startup streaming service in Salt Lake City and Denver.

“Based on the plain language of the 1976 Copyright Act and the clear intent of Congress, this court concludes that Aereo is engaging in copyright infringement of Plaintiffs’ programs,” wrote U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball in a ruling issued on Wednesday. “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.” The scope of the injunction is the 10th Circuit, which covers six western states.

In a statement, Fox said the ruling was “a significant win for both broadcasters and content owners. We are very pleased that the U.S. District Court in Utah has granted our request for a preliminary injunction. This injunction will prohibit Aereo from stealing our broadcast signal in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana.”

In a statement, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said that the company was “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 10th Circuit and we will pursue all available remedies to restore their ability to use Aereo,” he added.

Kimball’s decision does not change the Supreme Court’s plans to hear the broadcast networks’ case against Aereo on April 22. That case concerns Aereo’s operations in New York, where a federal judge and an appellate panel have sided with the startup company.

Kimball issued a stay in the case pending the Supreme Court ruling, but he made it clear that the injunction would be in place to “protect plaintiffs’ copyrighted works.”

The ruling is the first win for broadcasters in federal court as they seek to stop Aereo, arguing that the startup violates the public performance clause of the Copyright Act. It also bolsters their argument that previous court rulings in favor of Aereo were outside the norm of judicial interpretation. At the heart of the case is the interpretation of the Copyright Act’s transmit clause, which spells out when a performance should be considered “public.” Kimball, in fact, wrote that the 2nd Circuit in New York had “proceeded to spin the language” of the Copyright Act’s transmit clause, the legislative history and prior case law into “a complicated web.”

Kimball wrote that the clause “states clearly that it applies to any performance made available to the public.”

Aereo has said that its digital streaming of broadcast signals is a private performance, as each subscriber is assigned to a remote, dime-sized antenna.

Although Aereo argued that an injunction would harm its business, Kimball wrote that the company “took a calculated risk in designing its business around the Cablevision decision and a perceived loophole in the 1976 Copyright Act.” Other federal judges have sided with Aereo by citing a 2008 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found that Cablevision could deploy a remote DVR service without being liable for copyright infringement.

Aereo launched in Salt Lake City in August and in Denver in November.

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  1. Bob Shapiro says:

    Not sure how the SC will rule, – it is to realize when you transmit copyrighted data through public airwaves and the material is captured through a free to air antenna you are now in the public domain – meaning once in the public domain there should be a freedom to be able to redistribute the material without infringing on copyrights.

  2. I wish I could scream in this idiots face (looking at you kimball) how stupid he his. There is no difference between this and using a sling box. I pay for access to the data the sling box provides by paying my ISP for a pipe to pump it across. Here I am just paying for hardware kept at a distant location. Aereo needs to change its verbiage so that you are paying a monthly fee for access to the equipment (rental). Then the judge would be forced to screw himself. Please remove this person from the bench, they do not understand technology and have NO business making a ruling like this. WHEN the SC supports Aereo, he should be removed, period.

  3. Len Mullen says:

    This is headed to the SC soon, so this ruling does nothing except deprive Utah residents of a choice. The fact is that there is a long history of retransmission of broadcast signals.

    The correct solution is for the FCC to not allow content distributors to own content distribution infrastructure in the same market. Unfortunately, the Cable Cartel owns congress, the fcc, and the loc. I suspect they are hooking up free porn in the SC chambers as we speak.

    I’m no fan of the Aereo product, but competition is good.

  4. Aereo’s device or process transmits Plaintiffs’ copyrighted programs to the public.

    This one line refutes the claim with the term: “Public” If its a private performance then the service is totally legal. Every consumer has a right via the same laws that allow you to connect a VCR to a TV to see and record content for real time and recorded viewing. Once transmitted in real time you can send that content to as many tvs in your private location as you want to for the free content. The main concern is whether there is a public performance or is it a private performance. Can you charge a laundry mat for showing your content on their free to air television set? The answer is the key to this conversation. HBO is a premium channel therefore it is not subject to the same rules. In order to remain a free channel it must comply with the rules of a freely available channel. Will they go private is the question here. I think the win win is a revenue share arrangement where they share in the revenue of all fees generated from the OTT operator.

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