A federal court judge ruled Thursday that upstart streaming service FilmOn is potentially entitled to a compulsory license to stream content from broadcasters over the Internet, which if held up under appeal could force CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC to sell programming at below-market rates.
U.S. District Court Judge George Wu’s opinion comes less than a year after Aereo shut down in the wake of a debilitating Supreme Court ruling. In that case, the Court said Aereo, which streamed broadcast signals via a series of tiny antennas leased to subscribers, provides a public performance, not a private one as the company had asserted and was more like a cable company than the equipment provider it claimed to be. Aereo had argued that it merely leased antenna space to subscribers who used that equipment to access content and therefore was not subject to the regulations multichannel video programming distributors are held to.
The most recent ruling is surprising because it counters a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against streaming service Ivi, which had been seeking to access the compulsory licensing system. In that ruling, the court said “Continued live retransmissions of copyrighted television programming over the Internet without consent would...threaten to destabilize the entire industry."