The Internet television streaming service Aereo notched another legal victory against major broadcasters on Thursday when a federal judge denied a request from a Boston TV station to shut the startup down.
Aereo uses antennas to capture over-the-air broadcast signals and then streams those signals to people who pay about $8 a month for the service. Subscribers can watch and record network TV on their computers and mobile devices. While cable companies pay broadcasters billions of dollars in fees to show NBC, ABC or CBS to their subscribers, Aereo pays nothing, presenting a direct threat to a longtime industry business model.
Hearst Stations Inc., which owns the local TV station WCVB-TV in Boston, argued that Aereo should be stopped because it was violating copyright law by intercepting the station's broadcast signals without providing compensation.
But in his ruling Thursday, Federal Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton said Hearst had not proven that Aereo would cause “irreparable harm” to the broadcaster's business and thus could continue to operate in the Boston area. WCVB-TV plans to appeal the decision, according to CNET.
“Today’s decision makes clear that that there is no reason that consumers should be limited to 1950s technology to access over-the-air broadcast television,” Aereo chief executive Chet Kanojia said in a statement.
Founded in New York City last year and backed by media mogul Barry Diller, Aereo is one among several options for "cable cutters," people who piece together their TV viewing habits with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu instead of traditional cable packages.
As the company has announced plans to expand to nearly two dozen cities, the major broadcast networks have filed multiple lawsuits to stop it. Aereo maintains these networks' over-the-air signals are free, and thus far the courts have sided with the startup.
Aereo has won in court while other services have lost because of different legal precedents in the states where the suits have been filed, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Now, major broadcasters plan to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review their lawsuits to obtain a preliminary injunction against Aereo, according to Variety. The nation’s highest court can weigh in when lower courts give different rulings on a similar matter, but “there is a question as to whether the justices will take the case, or whether they will wait for the legal proceedings to play out further,” the magazine reported.