Supreme Court Rules Aereo's Service Violates Copyright Law

Supreme Court Rules Aereo's Service Violates Copyright Law

0

The United States Supreme Court ruled last week that Aereo was in violation of US copyright law. The decision states that Aereo's use of small antennas hooked up to cloud DVR technology violates the right of companies producing broadcast content. Specifically, the decision says that Aereo's business violates the 1976 Copyright Act; the act states that individuals or businesses are violating copyright if:

1: perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or
2: to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work ... to the public by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public are capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places at the same time or at different times.

In the case of Aereo, the Supreme Court says the company's service is tantamount to "a performance or display of the work."

The decision is in line with the Supreme Court's history involving cable companies. In 1976, the Copyright Act deemed the rebroadcast of airwave-based television via cable a performance. As a result, cable companies had to pay broadcast networks for access to content. Today's ruling states that Aereo is essentially in the same boat as cable TV companies. "Aereo's activities are substantially similar to those of the [cable television] companies that Congress amended the Act to reach," Associate Justice Stephen Breyer writes.

Aereo's argument was that, since it only rebroadcasts shows that its users choose and save on customer-assigned DVR machines, its users were retransmitting/performing. In other words: each Aereo subscriber is assigned an individual DVR machine and antenna. Since each user must choose what they watch (unlike cable, which is a feed of every channel all the time), Aereo argued that it's not a rebroadcaster, but its users are (which is legal). Instead, Aereo thinks of itself as a hardware provider. That hardware (DVR machines and antennas) provide a service. Associate Justice Breyer disagrees: "We conclude that Aereo is not just an equipment supplier and that Aereo 'perform[s].'"

The justices were split six to three, with justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan in favor, while justices Thomas, Alito and Scalia were against. Justice Scalia wrote the dissenting opinion of the court. Read the opinion here.

Aereo has "paused" its service, and is refunding subscribers for their last paid month.

Share This Post: