Utah district court is first to temporarily shut down Aereo

The District Court of Utah granted a preliminary injunction against Aereo, which previously had skirted being shut down in other lawsuits against it filed by broadcasters.

An array of Aereo antennae
Aereo's arrays of dime-size antennas. Aereo

A US district court has granted the first preliminary injunction against Aereo out of the patchwork of lawsuits against the company, handing broadcasters their first clear win ahead of a Supreme Court fight.

A decision by Judge Dale A. Kimball of the District Court of Utah on Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction sought by broadcasters. He also denied Aereo's motion to transfer the case but granted its motion to stay proceedings until the Supreme Court rules on the case later this year. Oral arguments are slated for April 22.

Such preliminary injunctions sought by broadcasters have been denied in the New York-based Second Circuit court of appeals and in Boston, something Aereo has touted as support for its legal status as it heads to the country's high court.

In a statement, Aereo Chief Executive Chet Kanojia said 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."

He cited the right of consumers to watch over-the-air broadcast television via an antenna and to record copies for their personal use, adding that the Copyright Act provides no justification to limit that right because the consumer is using remotely located equipment.

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

The court's decision will affect Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Of the 11 cities where Aereo currently operates, Salt Lake City and Denver fall under the decision's scope.

Kimball wrote that he considered the findings of other courts in cases not only against Aereo but also against a similar company, FilmOn X, which has been less successful fending off legal attacks on its technology in courts in California and D.C.

Kimball said the California and D.C. district court cases, as well as a dissent written by a judge in the New York-based case that favored Aereo, are "the better reasoned and more persuasive decisions" applying copyright law to the company's operations.

Aereo has often contested the idea that its technology and service are interchangeable with that of FilmOn X. None of the cases against the companies have proceeded far enough to reach a stage where their respective technology is laid out to compare.

A spokesman for Fox called the decision a "significant win for both broadcasters and content owners" that "will prohibit Aereo from stealing our broadcast signal." CBS (the parent company of CNET) declined to comment, and NBC and ABC both didn't immediately respond to e-mails seeking a response.

Read: Aereo's Supreme Court battle may change how you watch TV

Aereo, backed by IAC Chairman Barry Diller, offers a cloud-based DVR that lets users record over-the-air programming and play it back on personal devices, charging $8 a month for its cheapest package. It has been sued repeatedly by media companies, which claim the service infringes their copyrights.

Aereo is set up to assign an individual, tiny antenna for every subscriber, and it makes an individual copy of the content for each user. That format is a tool to circumvent copyright restrictions -- anyone is allowed to watch broadcast TV free with an antenna, and Aereo argues it is simply operating each member's antenna on his or her behalf -- but the one-antenna setup also means that when enough people sign up for Aereo in one of its markets, no more can join until more antennas, networking, and real estate are added.

 

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