A giant legal battle between TV broadcasters and upstart streaming service Aereo, already raging in the northeast and the District of Columbia, has crossed the Mississippi.
In a complaint filed on Monday, a Fox station asked a federal judge in Utah to shut down the service on the grounds that Aereo’s technology, which uses tiny antennas to beam over-the-air TV shows to viewers for $8 a month, infringes on copyright.
The legal dispute is important because Aereo now represents the greatest threat to the TV industry’s “bundle” model, which involves force-feeding giant packages of channels to cable and satellite viewers at ever higher prices. Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, whose company is backed by media mogul Barry Diller, has described the system as “abusive” and proposes instead a “rational bundle” system.
The legal fight turns on whether Aereo’s technology, which lets each subscriber watch and record TV via a personal antenna, is a “private” transmission under copyright or, instead, an unauthorized rebroadcast. In a major victory for Aereo, a New York appeals court accepted the start-up’s private transmission theory, giving it the green light to operate in New York, Vermont and Connecticut.
The broadcasters have won victories of their own as a result of suing an Aereo clone, known as FilmOn, and winning a California decision that effectively shuts out the streaming services in nine western states. Since then, the TV industry won a similar ruling in the nation’s capital, while Aereo has won in Boston, which will let the company operate in New England for the time being. (If you’re losing track, the Disco Project has a helpful map).
So how will the Utah case change the game? The short answer is that, since it is taking place within the 10th Circuit, it will determine Aereo’s fate in six more western states (Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado).
Update: In a statement, Aereo referred to the New York appeals court ruling and stated: “Fox is simply not entitled to repeated do-overs on this matter. Aereo will respond to this latest attempt at a mulligan in due course.”
The bottom line is that the legal fight is fast producing a strange situation where half of the country can watch Aereo and the other half cannot. The whole thing is likely to be determined by the Supreme Court in 2015.
Here’s the new Fox filing: