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Utah Federal Judge Halts Aereo in Salt Lake City and Denver

A federal judge in Utah has imposed a preliminary injunction on Aereo's operations, a win for broadcasters as they seek to halt the startup streaming service in Salt Lake City and Denver.

"Based on the plain language of the 1976 Copyright Act and the clear intent of Congress, this court concludes that Aereo is engaging in copyright infringement of Plaintiffs' programs," wrote U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball in a ruling issued on Wednesday. "Despite its attempt to design a device or process outside the scope of the 1976 Copyright Act, Aereo's device or process transmits Plaintiffs' copyrighted programs to the public." The scope of the injunction is the 10th Circuit, which covers six western states.

In a statement, Fox said the ruling was "a significant win for both broadcasters and content owners. We are very pleased that the U.S. District Court in Utah has granted our request for a preliminary injunction. This injunction will prohibit Aereo from stealing our broadcast signal in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana."

In a statement, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said that the company was "extremely disappointed that the district court in Utah has chosen to take a different path than every other court that has reviewed the Aereo technology. Consumers have a fundamental right to watch over the air broadcast television via an antenna and to record copies for their personal use. The Copyright Act provides no justification to curtail that right simply because the consumer is using modern, remotely located equipment.

"We are very sorry for the effect on our valued customers in the 10th Circuit and we will pursue all available remedies to restore their ability to use Aereo," he added.

Kimball's decision does not change the Supreme Court's plans to hear the broadcast networks' case against Aereo on April 22. That case concerns Aereo's operations in New York, where a federal judge and an appellate panel have sided with the startup company.

Kimball issued a stay in the case pending the Supreme Court ruling, but he made it clear that the injunction would be in place to "protect plaintiffs' copyrighted works."

The ruling is the first win for broadcasters in federal court as they seek to stop Aereo, arguing that the startup violates the public performance clause of the Copyright Act. It also bolsters their argument that previous court rulings in favor of Aereo were outside the norm of judicial interpretation. At the heart of the case is the interpretation of the Copyright Act's transmit clause, which spells out when a performance should be considered "public." Kimball, in fact, wrote that the 2nd Circuit in New York had "proceeded to spin the language" of the Copyright Act's transmit clause, the legislative history and prior case law into "a complicated web."

Kimball wrote that the clause "states clearly that it applies to any performance made available to the public."

Aereo has said that its digital streaming of broadcast signals is a private performance, as each subscriber is assigned to a remote, dime-sized antenna.

Although Aereo argued that an injunction would harm its business, Kimball wrote that the company "took a calculated risk in designing its business around the Cablevision decision and a perceived loophole in the 1976 Copyright Act." Other federal judges have sided with Aereo by citing a 2008 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found that Cablevision could deploy a remote DVR service without being liable for copyright infringement.

Aereo launched in Salt Lake City in August and in Denver in November.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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