Federal judge threatens to hold FilmOn in contempt of court

A federal judge is strongly considering holding streaming video service FilmOn.TV in contempt of court for continuing its operations, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Aereo was guilty of copyright infringement, according to a new report by Advanced Television. Following the contempt hearing for the copy-cat service that mirrors Aereo’s model, U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said she was “inclined to grant the contempt motion.” Despite her apparent inclination toward granting the motion, Judge Buchwald has yet to issue an official ruling or decide on what specific sanctions, if any, she would impose.

Late last month, the Supreme Court denounced Aereo’s retransmission of network broadcasts online without paying licensing fees as illegal. But shortly after the decision, FilmOn, a rival previously known as AereoKiller, vowed to stay in business. The service transitioned from operating as a free service by moving behind a “paywall” with plans to negotiate for the licensing of content in accordance with the Court’s decision. However, it continued to operate for weeks after the Supreme Court’s injunction, without obtaining such licenses.

Over the course of this drawn-out saga the larger target of the two, Aereo, claimed that paying licensing fees would put it out of business, before completely shifting tactics and applying for licensing under the same premise as FilmOn has put forth, attempting to obtain cable company status. However, Aereo’s efforts were derailed by the U.S. Copyright Office, which refused to process its application.

Meanwhile, FilmOn has consistently maintained that it is willing to pay up in order to continue operations. Alki David, FilmOn’s outspoken CEO, claimed that his service would begin acting like a cable company to, in a nutshell, play by the Court’s rules.

But, like Aereo, FilmOn’s clever maneuvering has yet to pass muster with the federal government. According to the Advanced Television report, the Judge Buchwald said that the streaming service can’t simply decide, singlehandedly, that it’s suddenly a cable company. “You don’t have the right to predict how the law is going to change when you’re subject to an injunction,” Judge Buchwald said. “There was no change in the law that gave FilmOn legal permission to do what it did.” The Judge reportedly told FilmOn’s lawyer that the company should have removed the broadcasters’ programs as soon as the Supreme Court ruling came down.

The contempt hearing was technically a continuation of a 2010 lawsuit by broadcasters against FilmOn that ended in an injunction prohibiting the service from infringing broadcasters’ copyrights. While FilmOn and Aereo both appear determined to put up the good fight, for now, both services appear to be closed for business. We’ll be following this story closely, so stay tuned.

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