Supreme Court to decide fate of Aereo’s Internet broadcasting service

By Ben Mook

An Aereo antenna is shown. The company rents access to the antennas to customers who can then watch, and record, live TV over the Internet. Photo: Aereo.

An Aereo antenna is shown. The company rents access to the antennas to customers who can then watch and record live TV over the Internet. (Photo: Aereo)

Television broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, succeeded in securing a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in their bid to strike down Aereo, the startup service that allows subscribers to view and record television broadcast programs via the Internet.

The court will hear the case later this year after granting a writ of certiorari Friday in the case of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., et al., v. Aereo, Inc. To date, broadcasters have been unable to secure an injunction against the company that uses banks of dime-sized antennas to capture broadcast signals and convert them into streaming video distributed over the Internet. Subscribers “rent” the antennas and have the option to watch TV programs live or on demand via a device similar to a digital video recorder.

Broadcasters appealed to the Supreme Court after the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request in July 2013 to revisit its earlier decision not to impose an injunction on Aereo. In April 2013, the 2nd Circuit upheld a lower court’s July 2012 decision to allow Aereo to continue operating despite the pending litigation.

In a statement, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said the company was confident that it would win, but he warned that the case had deep ramifications for cloud-based content.

“We said from the beginning that it was our hope that this case would be decided on the merits and not through a wasteful war of attrition,” Kanojia said. “We look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court and we have every confidence that the Court will validate and preserve a consumer’s right to access local over-the-air television with an individual antenna, make a personal recording with a DVR, and watch that recording on a device of their choice.”

In a pair of lawsuits, noncommercial broadcasters including PBS and New York’s WNET and commercial broadcasters including ABC, CBS and NBC have claimed Aereo is violating the U.S. Copyright Act. The case before the Supreme Court involves the commercial broadcasters, but a ruling will affect noncommercial broadcasters as well.

Aereo started offering daily, monthly and annual subscriptions to television viewers in March 2012. Initially the service was limited to New York but has since expanded to Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Baltimore.

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