A Win for the Dinosaurs: Supreme Court Rules Against Aereo

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In a favorable ruling for the powers that be, the Supreme Court decided that startup television streaming service Aereo is breaking copyright laws to provide its users with content. Aereo uses a method of recording broadcasts using antennas to capture content, then provide that content to subscribers. Broadcasting powers, including CBS (NYSE:CBS), ABC (NYSE:DIS), NBC (NASDAQ:CMCSA), and Fox (NASDAQ:NWSA) all view Aereo as a serious threat to one of its more lucrative revenue streams, and in the eyes of the Supreme Court, the startup company does not have the right to position itself in between the broadcasters’ content and those sources of revenue.

What makes this case tricky is that Aereo is simply capturing broadcast signals that can be picked up by any antenna — for free — and sending that program to customers via the Internet. The company is merely re-transmitting content that was already freely available. This is something that cable television providers — like Comcast or AT&T (NYSE:T) — do all the time. The major difference is that those providers pay big bucks for the rights to re-transmit that content. The danger to that revenue is what has broadcasters in such a kerfuffle.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling basically says that even though Aereo legally captures content from over the air signals, the company violates the Copyright Act by providing that content to customers. While it’s fair to argue that Aereo is simply giving consumers the technology to access broadcasters’ otherwise-free content, the courts have decided to rule in the case of the incumbents.

“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,” the ruling stated.

So by “publicly performing” the content from broadcasters, Aereo has been found to be operating within the confines of the Copyright Act, and be in violation of the Act’s rules.

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