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In a victory for television broadcasters, a federal judge in New York has ordered streaming outfit ivi, Inc., to stop airing the signals of TV networks over the Internet without consent.
Last September, ivi sued various major broadcasters in Washington District Court, seeking a declaration that by paying periodic statutory licensing fees to the Register of Copyrights, it was not infringing the copyrights of television stations. (The case was later dismissed after the judge in Washington found it to be an improper anticipatory filing.) The broadcasters responded by filing their own lawsuit in New York District Court, claiming that those statutory fees were only meant to apply to traditional cable TV operators and not to a web streaming outfit looking to retransmit a live television feed.
In recent months, ivi has presented itself as part of a new breed of “Online Video Distributors” and has asserted itself during the FCC and the Justice Department review of the Comcast takeover of NBCU as being the sort of competition that would keep traditional broadcasters and distributors honest.
But in a legal victory for TV broadcasters, Judge Naomi Buchwald has rejected those arguments, finding that broadcasters have demonstrated a likelihood of winning the case against ivi.
In her decision granting a restraining order, Judge Buchwald rules that ivi can’t be considered a cable system under Section 111 of the Copyright Act, and thus, can’t get away with having access to copyrighted content merely by paying $100 per year. The judge finds ivi’s legal justification to be skewed. “No technology…has been allowed to take advantage of Section 111 to retransmit copyrighted programming to a national audience while not complying with the rules and regulations of the FCC and without consent of the copyright holder,” she writes.
In reaction to today’s ruling, ivi has informed customers that it has temporarily shut down its service.
“This fight is for the people and their right to choice and control over their own entertainment — and it will continue,” said the company in a statement. “The oppressive big media networks must open their doors to innovators or they will inevitably fall. People want responsible choice, not the one-size-fits-all television offerings imposed by powerful media interests.”
Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group which filed an amicus brief on behalf of ivi, has pledged upon reading the judge’s words to take the fight to Washington.
“If competition to traditional cable service is to develop in the online distribution sector, then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Copyright Office are going to have to move quickly to update their rules to conform to the realities of new technology and consumer choice,” said John Bergmayer, staff attorney for Public Knowledge.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters says it is “gratified” to learn of today’s development. According to a statement by NAB executive vp communications Dennis Wharton, “In granting the injunction, the court found that ivi should not ‘be allowed to continue to steal plaintiffs’ programming for personal gain until a resolution of this case on the merits’. We agree.”
Eriq Gardner can be reached at email@example.com
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