updated 04:22 pm EST, Fri January 10, 2014
Ruling by Supreme Court dictates future of Aereo
Partially at Aereo's own request, the US Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on what has essentially become the entire US broadcasting industry against Aereo's use of their over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts. At stake is Aereo's ability to capture the broadcasters' free signal by using a single antenna per subscriber in a geographical area, and stream it to users at a nominal subscription fee. Should Aereo prevail in the Supreme Court, it will see fewer court battles nationwide, and larger freedom to operate without pressure from broadcasters in markets it enters.
As part of the Federal Communication Commission's charter to the broadcasters, they must make their content available over the air, for free, to the locality they serve in exchange for use of the publicly-owned airwaves. Aereo captures this broadcast, using arrays of tens of thousands of mini antennae, and streams this content to subscribers at their convenience. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, ABC president called Aereo "illegal, and it is opportunistic piracy" despite having no court agreeing with her sentiment up to that point.
Sweeney stated in the interview that the service is "taking advantage of our content, of our creative community, and using it for their own gain." Regarding the legal battles with the networks and Aereo, Sweeney called the alleged piracy "why we're prosecuting it, and we will continue to do so."
Since Sweeney's comments, Aereo has won most of its initial court proceedings, notably in Boston and New York City, with broadcasters failing to shut down the service before trial in all of the markets it serves. Both the Boston and New York judges likened the service to a DVR, whose underlying technology has been declared non-infringing many times in court. The broadcasters nearly immediately appealed their losses, and urged the Supreme Court to hear the case.
In a filing with the Supreme Court after the broadcaster's appeals, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said that "we are unwavering in our belief that Aereo's technology falls squarely within the law" and urged the Supreme Court to hear the argument, potentially ending the argument between it and the broadcasters once and for all. "Broadcasters appear determined to keep litigating the same issues against Aereo in every jurisdiction that we enter," Kanojia says. "We want this resolved on the merits rather than through a wasteful war of attrition."
Of today's decision by the Supreme Court that it will hear the case, CBS corporate communications said that the company is " pleased that our case will be heard, and we look forward to having our day in court."
A statement by Aereo today reiterated its position, saying that it looked 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."
It added that the company believes that "consumers have a right to use an antenna to access over-the-air television and to make personal recordings of those broadcasts. The broadcasters are asking the Court to deny consumers the ability to use the cloud to access a more modern-day television antenna and DVR. If the broadcasters succeed, the consequences to consumers and the cloud industry are chilling."
Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, New York City, and Salt Lake City all have Aereo service now. Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Tampa, Austin, San Antonio, and others have been selected by Aereo for future growth.