This is big enough news to jar me out of my summer break: FilmOn, our longtime video-streaming friend, actually won a decision in court. Last Thursday, US District Court Judge George Wu ruled against the broadcast TV networks that had filed for a summary judgment that FilmOn was ineligible for a compulsory license to retransmit their signals over the internet. Wu denied that motion, writing that FilmOn was “potentially entitled” to such a license.
There’s a whole lot of history in various online companies’ court battles to carry over-the-air TV. Most of those skirmishes and slaughters through the years, from ivi.tv and FilmOn to Aereo, have been detailed on this blog. For the quickest, best summary in one place, you should read TechDirt’s post by Mike Masnick. (My favorite quote: “In the early days, it was little surprise that Aereo won and FilmOn lost (often badly).” Those were such crazy times! But I digress.)
Most stories about Thursday’s court ruling made it sound a lot more important than it was. For example, Deadline Hollywood screamed “Court Says FilmOn Has A Right To License Major Broadcasters’ TV Shows”. But within that story, a quote attributed to Fox had the right perspective: “The court only found that FilmOn could potentially qualify for a compulsory license, and we do not believe that is a possibility. The injunction barring Film On from retransmitting broadcast programming over the internet still remains in place and the full burden of proof still lies with FilmOn.”
For all of us who would like to see more OTA TV streaming, Wu’s ruling is a victory, but only a small one. By rejecting the request for a summary judgment, Wu merely indicated that there is a real question whether FilmOn should qualify for the compulsory copyright license that ivi.tv couldn’t get years ago, noting that the Supreme Court’s Aereo decision may have changed the rules. Further, Wu indicated that he expected an appeal, which was why he left the injunction against FilmOn in place. And it’s possible, as the Los Angeles Times’ Jon Healey suggested, that the decision won’t survive appeal.
The more likely path for FilmOn will be later this year when the FCC is expected to set down rules by which online companies can get the same benefits (and possibly drawbacks) of other video distributors such as cable. Presumably, that would include OTA retransmission consent, which FilmOn would need to negotiate with each OTA station it would carry. It’s too late for Aereo, but it sure would be nice to be able to stream US OTA channels through FilmOn.