Broadcasters Denied Injunction Against Aereo in Massachusetts

Eriq Gardner
The Hollywood Reporter

Aereo has won an important ruling in a Massachusetts federal court.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton has denied an injunction request made by Hearst Station, owner of ABC affiliate WCVB-TV.

The broadcaster had argued in its copyright lawsuit that Aereo's system of capturing over-the-air TV signals and delivering them to subscribers' digital devices constituted a violation of its public performance rights. But according to the judge's opinion, Hearst was not persuasive in convincing the court that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its public performance claim nor its argument that Aereo is unlawfully distributing copyrighted works. The judge also wrote that "Hearst has made a minimal showing of irreparable harm that is an insufficient basis for entering a preliminary injunction in its favor."

The timing of the ruling happens as TV broadcasters are reportedly set to take a New York judge's denial of an injunction against Aereo up to the Supreme Court.

Here, Judge Gorton notes that the 1st Circuit (which covers Massachusetts, among other states in the Northeast) hasn't addressed the issue at hand.

Hearst argued that section 106 of the Copyright Act, giving copyright owners the exclusive rights to “perform the copyrighted [audiovisual] work publicly" was being violated. Aereo responded that it is transmitting private rather than public performances.

"Aereo’s interpretation is a better reading of the statute because the 'canon against surplusage' requires this Court to give meaning to every statutory term if possible," writes the judge in the ruling.

Aereo's expansion from New York to across the country has set off multiple rounds of litigation, most recently in a lawsuit that was filed earlier this week in Utah. As the controversy lingers, a question has arisen as to what is the proper venue to hear the dispute between broadcasters and Aereo.

The digital service backed by Barry Diller has argued that disputes should be heard in New York, where the first case was filed.

Judge Gorton's ruling isn't a complete win for Aereo. The judge refused Aereo's motion to transfer the Massachusetts case to New York.

On the other hand, Aereo made that request partly in the hopes of gaining favorable jurisdiction as the 2nd Circuit has been favorable thus far in the legal battle. But now, Aereo has convinced a judge in a new circuit that the broadcasters are unlikely to prevail in their copyright claims.

More to come...