U.S. TV Networks Win Restraining Order Against FilmOn

Correction: An earlier headline for this story didn’t make clear that while the judge’s order at least temporarily shuts down FilmOn’s service in the U.S., it doesn’t impact the company’s UK operations.

A judge has issued a temporary restraining order against UK-based FilmOn.com, in the latest development in the copyright-infringement case brought against the online service by America’s four major TV networks.

Fox, CBS (NYSE: CBS), ABC (NYSE: DIS) and NBC (NYSE: GE) sued FilmOn in October, arguing that by retransmitting their programming over the web, FilmOn was violating copyright law. The order will stop FilmOn from streaming any content from those networks until a decision is made about whether or not to issue a preliminary injunction, which could keep the ban in place for a longer period.

FilmOn CEO David Alki said his company respects the court’s decision, but will argue that FilmOn’s broadcasts are protected by the same laws that allow cable companies to re-broadcast content that also goes over the air. Alki added that he has formed partnerships with several independent broadcast channels and will “be able to keep a compelling live offering online in the near future.” He continued: “Coupled with our own library of content and that of our partners, FilmOn will remain open for business.”

But FilmOn now has to convince a judge that it’s a legit service before it can resume broadcasting any content from the four big networks. According to the court docket, FilmOn hasn’t yet made its initial answer to the complaint; that response is due Nov. 25. (The court docket doesn’t show the temporary restraining order either, however, so it may not have been updated.)

FilmOn isn’t the only internet re-broadcaster the television networks are going after right now. Just a few days before the FilmOn suit, ivi TV was sued for offering a similar service. Both cases were filed in New York, and are being overseen by the same judge, Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the federal court for the Southern District of New York. In the ivi TV case, lawyers are still jockeying over venue-ivi TV wants the case to be heard in Seattle, where the company is based, rather than in New York.

Following the order, ivi TV sent out an e-mail applauding the FilmOn loss, and emphasizing the differences between its service and FilmOn. Because ivi TV has paying subscribers, copyright law treats it differently, the company explained. Other key differences: ivi TV only broadcasts in the U.S., and encrypts its content. “The Court’s ruling gives us faith in the judicial system to effectively separate those operating in good faith abiding by every letter of the law, and those like FilmOn who publicly brag about being ‘cavalier’ towards copyright law,” ivi TV founder Todd Weaver said in a statement.

FilmOn also restreams UK and European channels in Britain, whose commercial public-service broadcasters iTV, Channel 4 and Five this month told paidContent:UK: “”FilmOn is not an authorized service and we reserve the right to pursue any site or service we believe to be infringing our copyright or using our content in an unlicensed, illegal capacity.” The trio are already due to meet a similar site, TVCatchUp, in London’s High Court next year.