Aereo Streaming Service Loses To TV Broadcasters In Court Ruling
June 25, 2014

Aereo Streaming Service Loses To TV Broadcasters In Court Ruling

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In what is being called a major victory for television broadcasters, the Supreme Court ruled against the video-streaming service Aereo, 6-to-3.

The company has been using tiny antennas, a modern take on old-fashioned “rabbit ears,” to stream broadcast television to its subscribers over the Internet. The court ruled that this practice constituted a public performance of copyrighted material – which goes against US regulations. Cable companies that transmit network television are required to pay retransmission fees that total around $3 billion.

Consumer rights group Public Knowledge criticized the decision, characterizing it as a defeat for consumer choice.

"We're concerned that the court's misreading of the law leaves consumers beholden to dominant entertainment and cable companies that constantly raise prices and gouge consumers,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge.

Writing in the dissenting opinion, conservative-learning Justice Antonin Scalia compared Aereo’s service to that of internet-service providers.

“Internet-service providers are a prime example. When one user sends data to another, the provider’s equipment facilitates the transfer automatically. Does that mean that the provider is directly liable when the transmission happens to result in the ‘reproduc[tion]’ of a copyrighted work? It does not,” Scalia wrote.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer argued the Aereo was acting more like a cable company than an ISP.

“Given Aereo’s overwhelming likeness to the cable companies ... this sole technological difference between Aereo and traditional cable companies does not make a critical difference here,” Breyer wrote.

The decision was immediately hailed by National Association of Broadcasters’ president Gordon Smith.

“NAB is pleased the Supreme Court has upheld the concept of copyright protection that is enshrined in the Constitution by standing with free and local television,” Smith said, according to the Boston Globe. “Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message that businesses built on the theft of copyrighted material will not be tolerated.”

"Today's decision is a victory for consumers," Paul Clement, the attorney representing the broadcasters, said in a statement. "The Court has sent a clear message that it will uphold the letter and spirit of the law just as Congress intended."

Since its start in 2012, Aereo has been facing legal challenges from the major broadcast networks. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC had initially sought an injunction to shut down the company's New York City launch. After a federal judge denied that request, the US Court of Appeals declined to shut down Aereo at the broadcasters’ behest. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.

Observers have said that a service like the one provided by Aereo is just over the horizon and this possibility has broadcasters’ scrambling to cope with a potential major revenue loss.

“Aereo and others following in its footsteps seek to subvert a carefully constructed legal framework with a technological gimmick,” the broadcasters argued in a brief to the Supreme Court.

“This undermines broadcasters’ ability to create new innovative programming and distribution mechanisms, and threatens existing programs, such as original local news and community affairs programming, that are costly to produce,” the brief added.