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June 25, 2014

Aereo's Last Stand? Supreme Court Fight Turns Against Company


When Aereo first emerged, it was a company that had a rather novel idea; for those who couldn't receive a television signal over the air, why not take that television signal and instead send it out over a  streaming video connection to equipment that users would rent out? Naturally, the networks in question sending out that television signal didn't much care for this concept, and lawsuits began in earnest. This got us all the way to the Supreme Court, where a new decision was reached that took down on Aereo as it's known today.

The Court ruled, in a 6-3 decision, that Aereo was indeed violating the Copyright Act by playing back recordings of broadcasters' shows. Aereo's stance was that it captured the signals legally, and offered up individual copies of said signals to each viewer, who merely rented equipment from Aereo to receive and play back said recordings. Aereo works by recording live television, much as many have done in the past, but then when users want to watch a certain show, Aereo assigns an antenna to said user, and doesn't allow recordings to be shared. That means users are essentially watching the presentation as if it were freshly broadcast, just on something of a time delay.

The Court offered up some commentary on its ruling, saying: “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 [Copyright] Act.”

Chet Kanojia, who serves as Aereo's CEO, offered up a statement reflecting his, and by extension the company's, feelings on the matter, saying “Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter.” The National Association of Broadcasters' CEO Gordon Smith, meanwhile, offered up a statement itself, saying “NAB is pleased the Supreme Court has upheld the concept of copyright protection that is enshrined in the Constitution by standing with free and local television. Aereo characterized our lawsuit as an attack on innovation; that claim is demonstrably false.”

This ruling, however, may come as a surprise not only to Aereo itself, but also to those who have been following the Aereo case. It was hit with several lawsuits not long after its introduction back in 2012, but most of these were summarily won. Moreover, the company even managed to land a win in an appellate court back in 2013. This may seem like an odd dichotomy—how did so many courts find Aereo largely blameless only to reach the Supreme Court, where blame was found? Of course, it's worth noting that it was nearly a split decision—6-3 is one off almost a tie and two off a win outright, though reports suggest that even the dissent was suspicious of Aereo's nature—so that contributes some perspective, but it's still not enough to keep Aereo operating as a service.

This was the kind of decision that was certain to prove controversial, and debate on the topic will likely continue for some time whether Aereo shuts down, retools, or does something completely unexpected. But for now, it looks like Aereo is out of the game, and the game itself has been largely declared illegal.




Edited by Maurice Nagle


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