Nets win legal battle vs. Web rebroadcaster

Temporary injunction upheld; tech distinctions key to recent rulings

Broadcasters, battling an array of new technologies taking aim at their signals, got some relief Monday as a New York federal court upheld a temporary injunction against Ivi, a service that retransmits network fare to its subscribers online.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Monday that the district court “did not abuse its discretion in finding that plaintiffs (broadcast networks) were likely to succeed on the merits of the case.”

That same jurisdiction sided against broadcasters in the high-profile case against Aereo, which also offers broadcast fare to its users but through a different device, a dime-sized antenna. Broadcast station owners and networks ran to court to press copyright infringement claims against both companies, as well as another startup dubbed Barrydriller.com. They’re also fighting satcaster Dish over its AutoHop DVR service, which records large chunks of primetime, making it easier for viewers to watch programs on demand and skip through commercials.

The proliferation of tech ventures focused on television transmission has created major headaches for the broadcast biz, which has turned to the courts in an effort to shut down companies that they view as stealing their content in an effort to build new businesses.

In July, a federal judge refused to place an injunction on Aereo’s service after the company argued its antenna-leasing service was a legal way for users to timeshift TV. Ivi bills itself as an over-the-top cable system. The courts to date have focused on the distinction between a service in which individual users make the decision on what programs can be accessed or time-shifted vs. a company that aims to broadly redistribute programming to its subscribers.

In the case of Aereo, which is backed by Barry Diller, it’s the broadcasters who are pressing the appeal; that process could take a year. In the meantime, Aereo is preparing to expand beyond its original market of New York starting next year.

On Monday, broadcasters were heartened by the Ivi decision.

“This confirms that Congress never intended to allow Internet providers to retransmit broadcast programming without the consent of copyright owners,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters. A rep for Ivi wasn’t immediately available; a rep for Aereo declined to comment on the significance of the Ivi ruling to its ongoing legal case.

Industryites speculated that the difference in the core technology is likely what’s behind the divergent rulings.

Ivi launched in 2010, calling itself an over-the-top online cable system that let its subscribers watch ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, the CW and PBS online from about 25 local affiliates in New York and Los Angeles via a downloadable app at Ivi’s website. It charged $4.99 a month plus another 99¢ for DVR functionality.

“Ivi offers major broadcast channels live to their laptop or desktop anywhere on the planet… Instead of attempting to bring the Web to the TV, Ivi intuitively brings TV to the Web,” Ivi founder and CEO Todd Weaver said at the time.

On Monday, the Ivi.tv website offered only two outdated “status updates” on its legal battle.

Dish’s launch of AutoHop in May brought immediate legal action from the Big Four networks. That spurred Dish to adjust the technology to make users select the networks they want to record. The case is being heard in L.A. federal court Los Angeles. Earlier this month, the Big Four filed suit in the same court against Barrydriller.com, which offers streams of network signals to users who connect to a remote antenna.

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