Judge Shuts Down FilmOnX, Threatening Aereo-Like Retransmission Services Everywhere

The District Court judge sided with broadcasters who say the services violate their copyright

In what could be a death-knell to Aereo-like services that retransmit local TV programming over the Internet without paying broadcasters, a Washington, D.C.,  judge on Thursday issued an injunction to temporarily shut down FilmOnX across most of the country.

Siding with local broadcasters, District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled FilmOnX’s service violates copyright laws.

“The court finds that the provisions of the 1976 [Telecommunications] Act that protect plaintiffs work are clear. FilmOnX’s service violates plaintiffs’ ‘exclusive right … to perform the copyrighted work publicly,” wrote the judge.

The lawsuit was brought by Washington, D.C., TV stations whose signals FilmOn X was airing, including Fox and NBC. Other plaintiffs included CBS and CBS Studios, Disney, Gannett, Telemundo and Universal Network Television.

“We are pleased, but not surprised that that the court recognized that the commercial retransmission of our broadcast signal without permission or compensation is a clear violation of the law,” Fox said in the statement. “This decision should finally put the matter to rest, and will hopefully discourage other illegal services from attempting to steal our content.”

Collyer rejected FilmOn X’s argument that its thousands of mini antennas, each tied to an individual subscriber, mean the company is not retransmitting a broadcaster’s signal.

“FilmOn X contends that it does not perform publicly because FilmOn X’s facilitates a one-to-one relation between a single mini-antenna and a viewer. First this is a charitable description of FilmOn X’s arrangements. Second the aggregation of several new kinds of technology does not avoid the Copyright Act [issue.] FilmOn X is in no meaningful way different from cable television companies,” she wrote.

The judge made the scope of her injunction national, preventing Film On X from offering its services anywhere except in northeast states that are part of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. A panel of the 2nd Circuit, based in New York, has ruled that Aereo’s similar service there is legal.

Collyer’s ruling is likely to set the stage for a quick appeal — and potentially push the case toward a Supreme Court decision if Congress doesn’t step in to clarify the law.

FilmOn X is controlled by Alki David. Neither he nor company officials returned a call requesting comment on the decision.