Television broadcasters won a preliminary victory on Monday as a federal judge in New York issued a temporary restraining order against FilmOn.com, a company that streams broadcast television signals over the Internet to its subscribers' mobile devices such as phones and tablet computers. The company has been sued by the four major television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and other major copyright owners, who claim that FilmOn.com infringes copyrights in their broadcast content. Judge Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered FilmOn.com to stop retransmitting broadcast programming until fuller arguments on the merits of the case can be further developed in mid-December on the motion for a preliminary injunction.
FilmOn.com is one of two companies involved in copyright battles over the legality of retransmitting broadcast television over the Internet. ivi TV filed suit in September in Federal District Court in Seattle, Washington, asking for a determination that it is not infringing copyrights by retransmitting television broadcasts over the Internet. The copyright owners subsequently sued ivi TV for infringement in District Court in New York and have asked that the Washington case be transferred there.
Both FilmOn.com (a free service) and ivi TV (a fee-based service that pays compulsory license fees based on revenue to the U.S. Copyright Office) claim that they are legally entitled to retransmit television broadcasts because they qualify as a "cable system" pursuant to Section 111 of the Copyright Act, which allows cable systems to retransmit television broadcasts in defined circumstances pursuant to a statutory license. The Copyright Office, however, has in the past issued rulings indicating that the Internet is not a "cable system" for purposes of the statutory license.