Aereo versus broadcasters: Early shots fired
April 23, 2014
By Colin Mann
The US Supreme Court has started its hearing as to whether Internet TV streaming service Aereo violates the broadcasters’ exclusive rights under federal copyright law to the public performance of their works, with initial oral arguments, being offered.
After the first day, David Frederick, counsel to Aereo, said that from the company’s perspective, the issue in the case was whether consumers who have always had a right to have an antenna and a DVR in their home and make copies of local over-the-air broadcast television, if that right should be infringed at all simply by moving the antenna and DVR to the cloud. “The court’s decision today will have significant consequences for cloud computing. We’re confident, cautiously optimistic, based on the way the hearing went today that the Court understood that a person watching over-the-air broadcast television in his or her home is engaging in a private performance and not a public performance that would implicate the Copyright Act,” he stated.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said the Association believe the preservation of copyright laws was at the heart of the case and was optimistic the rights of content producers would be upheld.
The broadcasters, including Disney, NBC, CBS and 21st Century Fox, contend the service is operating illegally by engaging in wide-scale, unauthorised exploitation of their copyrighted programming without paying for it.
Some justices were clear in their view that Aereo was in breach of copyright.”There’s no technological reason for you to have 10,000 dime-sized antennas other than to get around the copyright laws,” asked Chief Justice John Roberts.”I’m just saying your technological model is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don’t want to comply with,” he told Aereo’s Frederick.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Aereo was “the only player so far that doesn’t pay any royalties at any stage”.
Justice Stephen Breyer asked whether a ruling favouring the broadcasters would imperil the cloud computing business. “Are we somehow catching other things that really will change life and shouldn’t, such as the cloud,” he asked. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito voiced similar concerns.