Supreme Court Won't Review TV Streaming, File-Sharing Rulings

US Supreme Court Building - H 2012
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US Supreme Court Building - H 2012

The United States Supreme Court won't review two cases that have been closely followed in the entertainment industry.

One case involves the legality of streaming television online. The other deals with the amount of money that one file-sharer was ordered to pay after being found liable for copyright infringement.

The streaming case is ivi, Inc. v. WPIX, inc., et al.

The petitioner was a startup that attempted to stream television by taking advantage of telecom laws. Specifically, ivi believed that its secondary transmission of television signals to subscribers over the Internet qualified as a "cable system" under Section 111 of the Copyright Act, and therefore it only needed to make a modest statutory license payment to get rights.

The broadcasters disagreed, and first gained an injunction at a federal court in New York, and then affirmed that ruling at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Broadcasters see the ruling against ivi as being important in light of other services like Aereo and FilmOn which are similarly transmitting TV signals. In court fights with those companies, the broadcasters have pointed to the ivi rulings as precedent. Aereo, though, has not asserted quite the same kind of statutory payment argument that ivi did, instead arguing that individuals who gain access to over the air TV signals through antennas have the right to record and playback those signals. A decision at the 2nd Circuit is forthcoming, and it's possible that the Supreme Court could have another opportunity soon to review the legalities of TV streaming.

The fileshariing case is Jammie Thomas-Rasset v. Capitol Records Inc., et al.

The petitioner was one of about 25,000 individuals sued by the RIAA in the middle part of the last decade when the recording industry experimented with suing individual pirates in a massive anti-piracy campaign. Thomas-Rasset was one of the more difficult individuals who refused to settle for $5,000 and made the record companies go to trial.

The case had to be tried a few different times because the judge originally advised the jury that the plaintiffs need not prove actual distribution of copyrighted materials, only that Thomas-Rasset "made available" copyrighted music.

Thomas-Rasset was found liable for infringing 24 songs by sharing the material on Kazaa, but the damage amount kept bouncing around. First, it was $222,000. Then, after a second trial, it was $1.92 million. Then, after a third trial, it was $1.5 million. Eventually, it got reduced again down to the original $222.000.

But lawyers for Thomas-Rasset argued the amount was still unconstitutionally excessive and in violation of her due process rights.

Last month, the Obama administration urged the high court to turn down a review, saying, "This case is not an appropriate vehicle to decide petitioner's question presented."

The Supreme Court has denied cert on both cases without comment.

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