Supreme Court rules: Aereo is illegal
Finds third-party recording system violates copyright laws
June 26, 2014
The Big Four broadcast networks have won a victory against new technology they claim threatened their very existence.
The Supreme Court yesterday ruled in a 6-3 vote that Aereo, the online service that provides streams of local stations’ content on a subscription basis, is illegal, violating the networks’ copyright protection.
The high court overturned a lower court’s decision that Aereo was not infringing on the networks’ copyright.
The ruling, while definitive in terms of Aereo’s future, was carefully written so as not to “discourage the emergence or use of different kinds of technologies” such as digital video recorders; it was described as a “limited decision.”
The majority opinion, by Justice Stephen Breyer, noted specifically that cloud storage devices, where people put episodes of TV shows or songs, would not be impacted by the ruling.
But the justices were clear on this point: The service is illegal because it violated the “public performance” provisions of the 1976 copyright act protecting the networks from third parties retransmitting their content without permission.
Aereo is a subscription service that charges $8 to $12 per month. It essentially rents an antennae to subscribers that picks up the signals of local stations and then allows those subscribers to store a maximum of 60 hours per month of content that can be replayed at anytime.
Aereo was not compensating the networks for the content, available in 11 cities with a dozen more rolling out soon, and did not get their permission to grab the signals, which led to the litigation. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox brought the case.
In fact, several broadcasters, including CBS and Univision, even threatened to take their programming to cable if the Supreme Court ruled against them, arguing that Aereo’s very existence threatened the traditional broadcast network model.
They protested, among other complaints, that they weren’t receiving Nielsen credit for the people watching Aereo, and so they couldn’t sell advertising based off those viewers.
The future of Aereo is now in doubt, and so far there’s no clear indication of whether the company will continue.
It did release a statement today that read in part, “Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry.”
It continued: “We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done. We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”
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