Broadcasters Ask Supreme Court to Rule in Streaming Case

ABC, Disney, CBS, Fox Television and other broadcasters have asked the US Supreme Court to rule on whether a company that captures over-the-air TV signals and relays them to digital devices is violating the broadcasters’ copyrights.

The broadcasters sought Supreme Court review after a New York federal judge refused to grant an injunction against Aereo, an Internet TV company, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

The New York judge had held that each Aereo subscriber was receiving a private, customized transmission and thus that the company was not violating the broadcasters’ public performance rights under copyright law.

According to the broadcasters, the question presented to the Supreme Court is:

…whether a company ‘publicly performs’ a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet.

The broadcasters say that the Second Circuit’s ruling threatens the television industry by allowing retransmissions of live broadcasts to paying customers without any payments to the copyright owners who invested in creating the content.

Aereo does not oppose the broadcasters’ petition for Supreme Court review.  However, Aereo frames the question differently, as:

… whether Aereo ‘perform[s] publicly’ … by supplying remote equipment that allows a consumer to tune an individual, remotely located antenna to a publicly accessible, over-the-air broadcast television signal, use a remote digital video recorder to make a personal recording from that signal, and then watch that recording.

The broadcasters contend that this is an attempt by Aereo to represent itself as “a mere supplier of equipment that individuals may use to enhance their ‘private reception of broadcast television.’ ”

But, say the broadcasters, “Aereo is not a hardware supplier. It offers a subscription service.”

Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia has argued that a ruling against his company could destroy “the entire cloud computing business.”

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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