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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

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Joe April 23 2014 at 12:53 AM

If multi-billion dollar media companies can provide free over the air broadcasts, then as long as these aren't edited and the original commercials remain intact without additional or replacement advertising attached by Aereo, the court should allow it. It's just a virtual DVR service. If people will willingly pay for that, I say "Why not?"

Flag Reply +2 rate up
shalhoubalbert April 22 2014 at 8:42 PM

So $8 an I would save maybe $100.00 a month, sounds good to me.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
bentbouy1 April 22 2014 at 7:57 PM

tv is getting worse adn worse. Seems nothing on but informercials, stupid reality shows, how to lose weight shows, on and on - all those channels and nothing.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
rothhammer1 bentbouy1 April 23 2014 at 12:56 AM

Remember when the 'History Channel' had more than a few programs about history?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
quincy_maxwell April 22 2014 at 8:14 PM

So....8 dollars a month, compared to the over charging of the monopoly cable companies. Screw them....I'd pay the 8 dollars a month. Time-Warner and Comcast have become the ruling party in the cable industry and no one else has a chance. Whatever happened to the laws that took protected the consumers from the likes of big businesses....
Just look at the banks. Same thing. Monopolies. Walmart....monopoly, wherever they manage to get a foot hold. Remember the break up of AT/T ?

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
John quincy_maxwell April 22 2014 at 8:51 PM

Comcast and Time Warner are trying to merge. Write the FCC.
Found this on the site regarding the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger
BTW that merger is of the #1 and #2 companies in America.
It is FCC Docket Item 14-57.
If that sounds odd and counter competitive to you
(It should, unless you work for them)
go to:

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papabudlight April 22 2014 at 8:20 PM

I am about ready to buy a set of rabbit ears.

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Briknstone April 23 2014 at 7:00 AM

Dont the networks make enough money alrady.. TV used to be free anyway!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
brwneye9 April 22 2014 at 8:59 PM

Hey bentbuoy1 .. Don't forget being forced to watch commercials by more n more networks that block fast forward when I'm paying hundreds for cable!!! Really aggravates me!! The same commercial over n over !!!!!!

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gfirealty April 22 2014 at 9:05 PM

If you can get stupid people to pay for regular broadcast TV even when it isn't part of a package that has premium channels, good for Aero.

If you wanna watch regular TV on your laptop, smart phone or tablet so badly, let people have it. Aero is selling what any idiot cab get for free with a digital antenna that gets HD signals.

America is a great country !

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1 reply
twiggymonsterone gfirealty April 22 2014 at 9:13 PM

You sound like a lawyer who scoff's at people who say they've been cheated, and he laugh's and says didn't you read small print. But in today's economy it's not funny. Every cent counts.

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lwhite7392 April 22 2014 at 9:21 PM

I remember I used to record the Top 40 on a cassette tape and listen it to over and over. I also remember using the vcr to record movies from HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc and watching them at anytime. What is the difference....only the money at stake for the broadcasters.

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1 reply
kj4god lwhite7392 April 22 2014 at 11:33 PM

You weren't making a profit distributing it.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Steven April 23 2014 at 2:03 AM

Maybe copyright laws are going way overboard in their protections in the way that citations have become a nightmare for first year college students. You would think that with all the intelligence circulating the world in the field of electronics they could find a way to give us the best they have without making us take out second mortgages to pay for them. Aol dicovered they made more money with a flat rate than they ever made with a per minute rate and so did most cell phone companies. (excluding ATT or VERIZON, sometimes you can't teach old dogs new tricks.) all you can do is bury them when they die!

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