Streaming Service FilmOn X Loses TV License Battle

May 10, 2017
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What Could This Recent FilmOn X Case Ruling Mean For the Future of Streaming Media & Copyright Law?

We live in an ever-changing world, and the easy availability of streaming media has service providers and courts scrambling to come up with solutions to provide the best services while staying within the realm of current copyright laws.

What Could This Recent FilmOn X Case Ruling Mean For the Future of Streaming Media & Copyright Law?

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Technology evolves at such a fast pace that it usually leaves the law behind in the dust. This creates quite significant problems for technology creators and lawyers alike as they scramble to comply with the old, sometimes outdated, laws that will inevitably apply to the new tech.

The recent case between web streaming service FilmOn X and major broadcast networks is another example of this dilemma. Read about the Fox Television Stations, Inc., et al v. Aereokiller, LLC, et al case and what it could mean for the future of streaming media and copyright law.

Victory for Broadcast Networks

The case in question, against web streaming service FilmOn X, was heard by the Ninth Circuit to determine the applicability of the compulsory license provision of the Copyright Act (Section 111) to online streaming services. Section 111 has been used by Traditional cable companies, like Comcast, for compulsory access to broadcast media content.

The Court was unsure of how to rule, stating as much as “FilmOn and other internet-based retransmission services are neither clearly eligible nor clearly ineligible for the compulsory license Section 111 makes available.” Accordingly, the Court relied on the opinion of the US Copyright Office that Congress did not mean for Section 111 to apply to web services.

The ruling is a huge win for major networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, the plaintiffs in the case. Effectively, it requires web services to negotiate pricing and pay networks for the rights to stream their content.

Overturning Prior Decision

This decision is regarded as a landmark decision in that it overturns a prior ruling from 2015 which gave streaming web services the rights granted by Section 111. The original case began in 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled back in 2014 that the technology used by FilmOn X and then-competitor (now defunct) Aereo was in violation of copyright law.

FilmOn X turned to Section 111 as a defense, and despite precedent from other courts ruling that Sec. 111 only applied to cable companies, District Judge George H. Wu ruled that no distinction exists.

The Battle Goes On

FilmOn X already made a bid for the Ninth Circuit to review the lower court’s ruling, arguing that the lower court failed to delineate a workable legal standard to determine eligibility for a compulsory license. There’s also an identical case pending in D.C.’s Circuit Courts and arguments were just heard recently. Another similar case is still pending before the Seventh Circuit court. If either of these cases goes in favor of streaming services, the U.S. Supreme Court could be next.

New Copyright for New Times

While FilmOn X is disappointed with the current decision, these new cases could still create a split that will require another revision of copyright law interpretation for an ever-changing world. The company believes that the clear intent of Section 111 was to allow for the use of new technology to be used by broadcasters, which also allows for new entrants in the field.

For now, however, FilmOn X is bound by the current ruling, and both businesses and copyright attorneys will be watching and waiting to see what the future brings. However, if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Shane Birnbaum, at 201-806-3364.