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Supreme Court hears Aereo streaming TV case

What's at Stake in Aereo's Supreme Court Case?


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can side with broadcasters in a copyright challenge to an Internet startup company without threatening the burgeoning world of cloud computing.

The high court heard arguments in the dispute between television broadcasters and Aereo Inc., which takes free television signals from the airwaves and allows subscribers to watch the programs on laptop computers, smart phones and other portable devices. The case has the potential to bring big changes to the television industry.

But several justices expressed concern that a ruling for the broadcasters could hamper the continuing development of cloud computing, which gives users access to a vast online computer network that stores and processes information.

Justice Stephen Breyer said the prospect makes him nervous. "Are we somehow catching other things that would really change life and shouldn't?" Breyer asked.

Paul Clement, representing the broadcasters, tried to assure the court it could draw an appropriate line between Aereo's service and cloud computing generally. People who merely retrieve what they have stored should have no reason to worry, Clement said.

But David Frederick, representing Aereo, said the "cloud computing industry is freaked out about the case" because it sees its $10 billion investment at risk if the court were to hold that anytime music or an image is stored online and then retrieved, the copyright law would be implicated.

Aereo's service starts at $8 a month and is available in New York, Boston, Houston and Atlanta, among 11 cities. Subscribers get about two dozen local over-the-air stations, plus the Bloomberg TV financial channel.

In the New York market, Aereo has a data center in Brooklyn with thousands of dime-size antennas. When a subscriber wants to watch a show live or record it, the company temporarily assigns the customer an antenna and transmits the program over the Internet to the subscriber's laptop, tablet, smartphone or other device.

The antenna is only used by one subscriber at a time, and Aereo says that's much like the situation at home, where a viewer uses a personal antenna to watch over-the-air broadcasts for free.

Chief Justice John Roberts repeatedly asked Frederick whether the tiny antennas existed for any reason other than to avoid paying the broadcasters for their content. "Is there any reason you need 10,000 of them?" Roberts said at one point. He suggested that it might not affect his view of the case if there was no other reason.

But Frederick said it was much cheaper for Aereo, backed by billionaire Barry Diller, to add equipment as it grows, rather than start with a single large antenna.

Broadcasters including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS sued Aereo for copyright infringement, saying Aereo should pay for redistributing the programming the same way cable and satellite systems do. Some networks have said they will consider abandoning free over-the-air broadcasting if they lose at the Supreme Court.

The broadcasters and their backers argue that Aereo's competitive advantage lies not in its product, but in avoiding paying for it.

Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia recently told The Associated Press that broadcasters can't stand in the way of innovation, saying, "the Internet is happening to everybody, whether you like it or not." Aereo, backed by Diller, plans to more than double the number of cities it serves, although the high court could put a major hurdle in the company's path if it sides with the broadcasters.

The federal appeals court in New York ruled that Aereo did not violate the copyrights of broadcasters with its service, but a similar service has been blocked by judges in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said its ruling stemmed from a 2008 decision in which it held that Cablevision Systems Corp. could offer a remote digital video recording service without paying additional licensing fees to broadcasters because each playback transmission was made to a single subscriber using a single unique copy produced by that subscriber. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal from movie studios, TV networks and cable TV companies.

In the Aereo case, a dissenting judge said his court's decision would eviscerate copyright law. Judge Denny Chin called Aereo's setup a sham and said the individual antennas are a "Rube Goldberg-like contrivance" - an overly complicated device that accomplishes a simple task in a confusing way - that exists for the sole purpose of evading copyright law.


The case is ABC v. Aereo, 13-461.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
gedking April 22 2014 at 6:09 PM

When Cable and Satilite TV started we were promised Comercial free TV if we bought their service.
So we bought it, and now have to watch a whole bunch of junk comercials.

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twiggymonsterone April 22 2014 at 5:37 PM

Sorry, I'm still trying to figure out how I went from getting free TV to paying $150 a month for a bunch of crap I don't watch for the few channels that I do? And why do I have to watch more commercials than ever for something I already have to pay for?

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2 replies
frozenbull twiggymonsterone April 22 2014 at 6:23 PM

That's the best comment yet . Go figure . Screwed again

Flag Reply +1 rate up
bjay0421 twiggymonsterone April 22 2014 at 6:23 PM

Boy, did you just sum up my feelings exactly! I know I'm old, but I still remember being told that the 'small' amount they would charge for cable would be worth it, because it would be free of commercials! ! ! I felt then that it was too good to be true, and protested having to pay for TV that I was already getting for free.
They've been cheating us for years, while giving us garbage to watch. Also, when they went to 'digital', we were promised it wouldn't cost us any more, and we were told we'd still have all the same channels. Now I have lost close to ten channels, plus my bill keeps going up and up and up. The more they charge, the less they give us.
I don't believe a word they say, and neither should you!

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1 reply
twiggymonsterone bjay0421 April 22 2014 at 8:45 PM

Here's another question to ask, I don't care about sport's but I can't get a package from the satellite company that doesn't include every frigging sports channel in the world and I'm sure it's costing me a lot more for this. Only about 10% of the population watches sports, they include it in basic package so they spread the cost to people who don't watch or want it, because the professional and college teams want more money for their coverage.

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The Paterfamilia April 22 2014 at 5:29 PM

Think about this...

Since WWII, the American Tax Payer has footed the bill for the research done to creat Micro Wave Stations that TV Companies got handed to them for free which they have prospered greatly by encrypting the so called "Airwaves that belonged to the PUBLIC".

That created the Communication giants that have now raped the "PUBLIC" again using Encryption designed again by Tax Payers money from Wall Street which now channels Profits World Wide to untold Tax Havens that cut off any returns at all...

Finally, now these Cable Companies and their Tax Sheltered Beneficiaries on Wall Street want US GOVERNMENT protection from all the PUBLIC TAX PAYERS who by the most part actually WORK for Wall Street companies already right here in the US of AMERICA, are using the SATELLITE SYSTEM that Tax Payers also paid for to be designed and for NASA to send into Space, Monitor, Maintenance & Coordinate... ON THE PUBLIC DIME!!!

Now, even NASA HAS BEEN HANDED OVER TO THE BANKS ON WALL STREET!!! Look up who owns SPACE X... A Credit Card Company Founder financed by Multi-National affiliate Pay Pal...

Truthfully, everything that goes thru TAX PAYER DESIGNED TECHNOLOGY, should it be restricted this way from TAX PAYER & US CITIZEN USE? Phones, TV's, Internet... All are Airwaves the FCC once declared as being owned by the Public, while the National Anthem was played and the American Flag proudly waved to end every TV Stations programming day... (Is this Democracy now a Plutocracy?)

Flag Reply +5 rate up
chaparita0728 April 22 2014 at 5:15 PM

I just read about this in today's paper. I am so hoping Aereo wins as I am so tired of getting screwed by my cable company. Unfortunately, the Communications industry is pretty strong so it will be interesting to see how this goes.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
wizardsking April 22 2014 at 6:08 PM

In all honesty, I use air and Netflix. I dont miss cable or dish at all.

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1 reply
The Paterfamilia wizardsking April 22 2014 at 6:37 PM

They can License their programs all they want, good for them for what ever they can earn... But, the communications thru Public Airwaves have always belonged to the Public... Of course all Privileges come with duties and obligations... Am I not right?

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1 reply
wizardsking The Paterfamilia April 22 2014 at 7:18 PM

Yes you are correct.

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jesuaphn April 22 2014 at 4:40 PM

I do not have cable or satellite anymore. I bought a digital antenna and get 20 channels in my area that transmit ABC CBS NBC PBS CW FOX free network programing. To supplement my set up I bought a Roku (you can use other devices in the market also) and get hundreds of free channels and some pay channels that cost much less than what I used to have.

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1 reply
chaparita0728 jesuaphn April 22 2014 at 5:29 PM

I was thinking about this and will probably do that as long as I can get HBO.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
ladkraemer April 22 2014 at 4:37 PM

That would be great if all the sports channel would take over sports and not interfere with regular broadcasts.

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2 replies
gedking ladkraemer April 22 2014 at 6:16 PM

They should pay us to watch their dam commercials.

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Hi Sammy ladkraemer April 22 2014 at 6:34 PM

I agree with ladkraemer. don't mess with base being blacked out because MLB blocks out the whole country because G. balllSteinbrenner twanted the Yankee channel to have cable, YES, to not have cable have to pay extra for YES. The satellelite companies took advantage on the satellelites, raised up with TAXPAYER dollars is raping us on a dyingmans' wish!

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1 reply
kpatl5 Hi Sammy April 22 2014 at 8:39 PM

GOP (Go Oppress People)....Most folks vote them into office every year (The GOP) and then whine about how the they are getting screwed economically...The sad part is folks know their history, and they are all about the 1%, and will eat their young and know they will be screwed before they vote GOP, but they do it anyway like its some fad.....If you want it to stop this don't vote for them!!!

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ladkraemer April 22 2014 at 4:35 PM

I don't understand... If I'm on vacation I could still see the commercials from my home town because I could watch my home town channel on the net if I'm not at home. The broadcasters are payed by the amount of watchers and now they can say they are international. If I can't watch NBC on the net then I'll watch CBS or ABC. This is stupid, you have a bigger audience.

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1 reply
sayraven ladkraemer April 22 2014 at 4:57 PM

Actually, you can not watch local stations once you have left your home area. I subscribe in Miami and tried to catch the news during a day trip to Orlando. It is not possible using Aereo. I love the service though. I have had Directv for an number of years. They do not show all of the local channels. With out Aereo or some type of service I cannot watch digital TV. Apparently, there are tall buildings that block the signal from my home and the antenna field of local broadcasters. Aereo has been fantastic. I am strongly considering dropping my other tv services.

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wizardsking April 22 2014 at 6:06 PM

Given the current sitting Justices, we will be watching the radio again.

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1 reply
rothhammer1 wizardsking April 23 2014 at 1:04 AM

It was better for the imagination.
I like old movies and some current TV, but have you ever listened to vintage radio serials? Everyone could fill in the images with their 'mind's eye,' and the 'Shadow' or 'Ming the Merciless' would look different to everyone.

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The Paterfamilia April 22 2014 at 5:46 PM

I say that since Phones, Satellites and the Internet are all Digital just like TV the PUBLIC TAX PAYERS shouldn't need to be exploited by World Traders on Wall Street...

They should be allowed to get their communications totally free using the same Digital type antennas they can now get HD TV on by that same US Law that make Stations that broadcast their programming free... After all the internet is not individually owned!!! It's all free programming!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
The Paterfamilia The Paterfamilia April 22 2014 at 6:26 PM

Ham Radio Operators are already licensed by the FCC with Transmission Privileges for both Talk and Data simply by passing simple tests that voluntary examiners are qualified to give and score for the FCC in the field...

They are quite often given at Clubs, Meets & Field Events... I myself still have Advanced or General licensed Station Privileges and once was given Congressional Recognition for Heroic Deeds using my Radio Station, FCC # KB9LUN, US ARMY MARS Station # AAR5EV with no band restriction of Privileges thru a Memorandum of Intent between the FCC & the ARRL as the OFFICIAL EMERGENCY STATION for the State of ILLINOIS... ;-) Proudly!!!

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2 replies
The Paterfamilia The Paterfamilia April 22 2014 at 6:32 PM

(Ground Zeroed by an F4 Tornado after activation of a Warning Siren Network, in Decatur, Illinois on April 19th, 1996 as a NWS Certified Storm Spotter...

Flag +1 rate up
rothhammer1 The Paterfamilia April 23 2014 at 1:08 AM

Glad to know that some of you guys are still around.
My dad was one of the founding members of IEEE.

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