U.S. Supreme Court rules against Aereo, calls service 'illegal'

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Aereo, calls service 'illegal'

Updated: Jun 25, 2014 02:48 PM

By Malarie Gokey
Provided by


The verdict is in and it’s against Aereo. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 for broadcasters, reversing a lower court decision that supported Aereo. The court declared that the streaming service, which gives users access to local TV channels via antennas, violated live TV stations’ copyrights.

Aereo uses a system of super small HD antennas that capture broadcast TV over the airwaves. Once it has the signal, Aereo’s technology then transmits the signal over the Internet for users to watch on their smartphones, tablets, or TVs via Chromecast. The company also provides a cloud DVR service so that its customers can record content. This content is recorder per user and can not be shared. 

Typically, those who wish to re-broadcast network television content must ask permission and obtain licenses first. Aereo did not ask for permission, arguing that the TV broadcasts it sent to individual people’s devices are private performances, not public ones. The TV networks disagreed with Aereo’s point of view, as did the Supreme Court.

The networks argued that if they have to pay  retransmission fees to do the same thing, then Aereo should have to as well. The networks added that the company’s refusal to do so makes Aereo’s service illegal. Aereo claimed that its system of renting antennas and DVR storage to customers is exactly the same as any cable company that rents equipment to users, therefore, its service is perfectly legal.
The Supreme Court was inclined to agree with cable providers. In its decision, the court wrote that, “Viewed in terms of Congress’ regulatory objectives, these behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly. Congress would as much have intended to protect a copyright holder from the unlicensed activities of Aereo as from those of cable companies.”

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan all voted against Aereo, too. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the dissenting opinion, was supported by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in his opinion that Aereo’s service is legal.

In his written opinion of the ruling, Scalia likened Aereo to a copy shop that simply reproduces copyrighted content and as such, isn’t liable for copyright infringement.

“The Networks sued Aereo for several forms of copyright infringement, but we are here concerned with a single claim: that Aereo violates the Networks’ ‘exclusive righ[t]‘ to ‘perform’ their programs ‘publicly.’ 17 U. S. C. §106(4). That claim fails at the very outset because Aereo does not ‘perform’ at all. The Court manages to reach the opposite conclusion only by disregarding widely accepted rules for service-provider liability and adopting in their place an improvised standard (‘looks-like-cable-TV’) that will sow confusion for years to come,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia also argued that Aereo is different from other video-streaming services that pay licensing fees for content because the shows streamed by each user are not preselected by the company. Instead, the users decide what content they watch using the antenna rented from Aereo. Scalia believes that as such, Aereo is not responsible for the actions of its subscribers.

“Unlike video-on-demand services, Aereo does not provide a prearranged assortment of movies and television shows. Rather, it assigns each subscriber an antenna that — like a library card — can be used to obtain whatever broadcasts are freely available. Some of those broadcasts are copyrighted; others are in the public domain. The key point is that subscribers call all the shots: Aereo’s automated system does not relay any program, copyrighted or not, until a subscriber selects the program and tells Aereo to relay it,” Scalia wrote. The majority opinion also addressed this issue with the argument that Aereo is indeed liable for infringement because it provides access to copyrighted TV programs.

“Aereo is not simply an equipment provider,” Breyer wrote. “Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast.”

Aereo has yet to comment on the ruling, but is expected to release a statement in the next few hours. TV providers are already hailing the ruling as a great leap forward for the industry. 21st Century Fox issued a statement celebrating the decision.

“21st Century Fox welcomes the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, a decision that ultimately is a win for consumers that affirms important copyright protections and ensures that real innovation in over-the-top video will continue to support what is already a vibrant and growing television landscape,” the company said.

Regardless of how you look at it, one thing is for certain: The Supreme Court’s ruling against Aereo is sure to have last implications for up and coming TV streaming services .


This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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