Supreme Court to Hear Broadcaster Bid to Kill Aereo

The U.S. Supreme Court is shown in a 2009 file photo. Its justices appear unlikely to invalidate a law backing an arms-control treaty when it rules on a case it heard on Tuesday regarding a woman's prosecution under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
Jan. 10, 2014, 10:36 a.m.

The Su­preme Court an­nounced Fri­day that it will re­view a law­suit from tele­vi­sion broad­casters to shut down on­line video com­pany Aereo.

NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and oth­er broad­casters claim that Aereo is steal­ing their copy­righted con­tent and warn that if the In­ter­net star­tup wins, it could doom their in­dustry.

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 fed­er­al judges in the Dis­trict of Columbia and Cali­for­nia have ruled for the broad­casters in cases in­volving a sim­il­ar ser­vice.

Aereo, which is backed by me­dia mogul Barry Diller, al­lows cus­tom­ers to watch broad­cast TV on their com­puters, mo­bile devices, or In­ter­net-con­nec­ted TVs for a monthly fee. But un­like cable and satel­lite pro­viders, Aereo doesn’t pay the TV broad­casters for their con­tent.

Aereo ar­gues that it doesn’t need to pay the broad­casters be­cause it uses tiny an­ten­nas to pick up over-the-air TV sig­nals and then trans­mits that video to its cus­tom­ers over the In­ter­net. Any­one has the right to ac­cess broad­cast TV with an an­tenna, al­though most people get broad­cast chan­nels through their cable pro­vider.

Broad­casters claim Aereo is try­ing to un­der­mine the in­tent of copy­right law, while the com­pany says it is only mak­ing it easi­er to ac­cess video which should already be free.

Both sides of the battle ap­plauded the high court for tak­ing up the case.

“We said from the be­gin­ning that it was our hope that this case would be de­cided on the mer­its and not through a waste­ful war of at­tri­tion,” Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kan­ojia said in a state­ment.

“We look for­ward to present­ing our case to the Su­preme Court and we have 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.”

He said the case has rami­fic­a­tions not only for his com­pany, but any cloud stor­age ser­vice that al­lows users to ac­cess copy­righted ma­ter­i­al on­line.

In a state­ment, CBS said it is look­ing for­ward to its day in court.

“We be­lieve that Aereo’s busi­ness mod­el, and sim­il­ar of­fer­ings that op­er­ate on the same prin­ciple, are built on steal­ing the cre­at­ive con­tent of oth­ers,” the net­work said.

The broad­casters are rep­res­en­ted by a fleet of top law­yers, in­clud­ing former So­li­cit­or Gen­er­al Paul Clem­ent, who ar­gued against the pres­id­ent’s health care law be­fore the Su­preme Court.

Broad­casters are es­pe­cially con­cerned that if Aereo wins, cable and satel­lite pro­viders could use a sim­il­ar tech­nique to cut off the bil­lions of dol­lars they pay every year to carry broad­cast TV chan­nels.

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