Obama Administration Backs TV Giants’ Bid to Kill Aereo

The solicitor general says the video site is stealing content.

  he Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on the President Obama's health care reform bill in Washington The United States Supreme Court is seen one day before the court will begin hearing arguments on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care reform bill, in Washington on March 25, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch    
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
March 3, 2014, 1:23 p.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has sided with tele­vi­sion broad­casters in their bid to shut down video-stream­ing site Aereo.

In a brief to the Su­preme Court, the U.S. So­li­cit­or Gen­er­al’s Of­fice said that Aereo’s “un­au­thor­ized In­ter­net re­trans­mis­sions” vi­ol­ate copy­right law.

The fil­ing is a ma­jor blow to Aereo, which al­lows cus­tom­ers to watch and re­cord broad­cast TV on their com­puters, mo­bile devices, or In­ter­net-con­nec­ted TVs for a monthly fee. The Su­preme Court is sched­uled to hear or­al ar­gu­ments in the case on April 22.

Un­like cable and satel­lite pro­viders, Aereo doesn’t pay the TV net­works for their con­tent. The com­pany uses tiny an­ten­nas to pick up over-the-air TV sig­nals and trans­mits that video to its cus­tom­ers over the In­ter­net.

ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and oth­er broad­casters claim Aereo is steal­ing their con­tent, while the video site says it is only mak­ing it easi­er for con­sumers to ac­cess free TV chan­nels.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion con­cluded that Aereo’s ser­vice is an “in­teg­rated sys­tem” that is steal­ing the copy­righted con­tent.

“The fact that as part of that sys­tem [Aereo] uses unique cop­ies and many in­di­vidu­al trans­mis­sions does not al­ter the con­clu­sion that it is re­trans­mit­ting broad­cast con­tent ‘to the pub­lic,’ ” the So­li­cit­or Gen­er­al’s Of­fice wrote. “Like its com­pet­it­ors, [Aereo] there­fore must ob­tain li­censes to per­form the copy­righted con­tent on which its busi­ness re­lies.”

The of­fice re­jec­ted Aereo’s ar­gu­ment that sid­ing with the broad­casters would en­danger the leg­al­ity of cloud com­put­ing and oth­er tech­niques for ac­cess­ing copy­righted con­tent re­motely.

“A con­sumer’s play­back of her own law­fully ac­quired copy of a copy­righted work to her­self will or­din­ar­ily be a non-in­fringing private per­form­ance, and it may be pro­tec­ted by fair-use prin­ciples as well,” the gov­ern­ment wrote. Aereo cus­tom­ers, by con­trast, have no right to ob­tain the TV con­tent through the ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ing.

The So­li­cit­or Gen­er­al said the con­clu­sion that Aereo is il­leg­al “should not call in­to ques­tion the le­git­im­acy of busi­nesses that use the In­ter­net to provide new ways for con­sumers to store, hear, and view their own law­fully ac­quired cop­ies of copy­righted works.”

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 2nd Cir­cuit sided with Aereo last year, and an­oth­er fed­er­al judge in Bo­ston also de­clined to shut down the com­pany. But a fed­er­al judge in Utah sided with the broad­casters this year.

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