Streaming TV Aereo Case Will Go To The Supreme Court
January 12, 2014

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear TV Networks’ Case Against Streaming Service Aereo

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case bidding traditional television broadcast networks against a Web-based start-up promising to provide live programming over the Internet, CNN Money and other media outlets reported on Friday.

Television networks including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC argue that streaming video firm Aereo, which launched in 2012, violates their copyrights by using thousands of miniature antennas in order to allow users to access broadcast signals without paying service fees, Bloomberg reporter Greg Stohr explained.

“Aereo argues that this method works like the perfectly legal antennas and DVRs that anyone can buy off the shelf,” CNN’s Julianne Pepitone and Brian Stelter said. “But broadcasters say that this is an unfair dodge, and they have filed a series of lawsuits to stop Aereo in its tracks. They argue Aereo should have to pay them to retransmit their programming, just like cable and satellite providers do.”

The networks first petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case in October. Two months later, Aereo said that it would not fight those attempts, noting that the company wanted the case to be resolved “on the merits.” In October, the US District Court in the District of Massachusetts denied a request by Hearst Television to shut down the service.

In that decision, as in most previous lower court rulings, US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston said that Aereo did not violate intellectual property rights by capturing signals and sending them to customers without retransmission permission. Gorton added that Hearst failed to demonstrate that Aereo’s operations caused the “requisite irreparable harm” required to issue an injunction against the New York City-based technology firm.

“Broadcasters say a federal appeals court ruling favoring Aereo created a blueprint that might let cable and satellite providers avoid paying ‘retransmission’ fees to carry programming,” Stohr said. “With those fees estimated to exceed $4 billion this year, some broadcast companies say they may convert to cable channels if Aereo isn’t shut down.”

“This has never been about stifling new video distribution technologies, but has always been about stopping a copyright violator who redistributes television programming without permission or compensation,” Fox, the Tribune Company, Univision Communications Inc., the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and WNET-TV in New York added in a statement emailed to Bloomberg.

Aereo is currently available in 10 cities, including New York and Baltimore, and according to its website, it is looking to expand into Washington in the near future. Robert Barnes of the Washington Post reports that memberships begin at $8 per month – a far cry from the $100 or more that many Americans cable providers charge their customers for their packages.

Barnes said that Aereo founder and chief executive Chet Kanojia has called the company’s technology “functionally equivalent to a home antenna and DVR.” Likewise, the firm said that it had “every confidence that the court will validate and preserve a consumer’s right to access local over-the-air television with an individual antenna, make a personal recording with a DVR, and watch that recording on a device of their choice.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case, American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo Inc., No. 13-461, “could have broad implications for the way content is distributed in the future,” said New York Times reporter Adam Liptak. The case was one of eight accepted by the Supreme Court on Friday, and will most likely be argued in April, Barnes added.