Aereo TV Service Ruled In Violation of U.S. Copyright Laws

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Aereo Logo. Image provided by Aereo

Dateline: 06/25/2014
Aereo, the upstart TV streaming service that has been a thorn in the side of U.S. TV broadcasters, has been dealt a big blow as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Aereo is in violation of U.S. Copyright Law.

Briefly, the Aereo case centered around the following:

Aereo is a service that provides users with access (via paid subscription) to an individual, but centrally-located TV antenna via the internet, that allows live viewing and DVR-like recording of over-the-TV broadcasts using laptops, PCs, and mobile devices (read my Aereo Overview for details on how it works.

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Aereo's claim was since each subscriber was assigned their own antenna, even though it was located in a remote location, its service was essentially the same as the viewer having a set of rabbit ears in the home, thus not violating the public performance restrictions outlined in U.S. Copyright Law and TV Broadcast retransmission agreements, which have been held up as legal.

As result of their reasoning, Aereo was not paying any re-transmission fees to TV broadcasters for receiving and redistributing their signals, while at the same time charging their own subscribers to connect to their service.

On the other hand, TV Broadcasters claimed that Aereo was in violation of U.S. Copyright Law with regards to public performance and re-transmission agreements, and should be treated no differently than a satellite or cable TV provider that receives network and local TV broadcast content and is required to pay (at the discretion of the aforementioned TV broadcasters) a retransmission fee for the privilege, as the way cable and satellite services re-distribute content is considered a public performance.

For a full summary of the arguments of the case as they were submitted and orally argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, listen to an Argument Summary Report, read the Full Written Transcript of the Hearing and a supplementary Argument Analysis.

On June 25, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their opinion that Aereo was indeed in violation of U.S. Copyright Laws, thus siding with U.S. TV broadcasters.

The Court issued the following summary of their ruling:

In sum, having considered the details of Aereo’s practices,we find them highly similar to those of the CATV systems in Fortnightly and Teleprompter. And those are activities that the 1976 amendments sought to bring within the scope of the Copyright Act. Insofar as there are differ­ences, those differences concern not the nature of the service that Aereo provides so much as the technological manner in which it provides the service. We conclude that those differences are not adequate to place Aereo’s activi­ties outside the scope of the Act. For these reasons, we conclude that Aereo “perform[s]” petitioners’ copyrighted works “publicly,” as those terms are defined by the Transmit Clause. We therefore reverse the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals, and we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. It is so ordered.

Justices in the majority: Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy, Roberts, and Sotomayor.

Justices in the minority: Scalia, Thomas, and Alito

For more details, including the dissenting opinion written by Justice Scalia on behalf of the minority,  read full text of U.S. Supreme Court Opinion

Aereo Reacts To Supreme Court Defeat

Official Reaction By The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) to Aereo Ruling

Official Reaction by the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) to Aereo Ruling

UPDATE 06/28/2014: Aereo Suspends Operations In Aftermath of U.S. Supreme Court Ruling (Official Announcement)

UPDATE 7/10/14: Aereo Establishes New Website: ProtectMyAntenna.org

UPDATE 7/11/14: Aereo May Resurrect as Cable Service

Disclaimer: Aereo is backed, in part, by IAC, which is the Parent Company of About.com. However, IAC had no editorial input into the content contained in this article.