Aereo Defends Service as Supreme Court Hearing Looms
Streaming video startup Aereo defended its service in a filing with the Supreme Court late Wednesday night, saying the case highlights how a legacy industry can try to stop innovation by hiding behind federal copyright law.
“The broadcasters are asking the Court to deny consumers the ability to use the cloud to access a more modern-day television antenna and DVR,” said Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia in a statement. “They are asking the Court to confine consumers to outdated equipment and limit their access to lawful technology in order to protect a legacy business model, the success of which is built on eliminating consumer choice and competition in the marketplace.”
Broadcasters argued in a 59-page brief last month that Aereo is deliberately stomping on their copyright protections and re-selling their broadcasts. If Aereo were to prevail in the case, the broadcast industry’s business model would collapse, station owners warned, because pay-TV companies would no longer have to pay fees to rebroadcast local channels.
A key point of contention between the two sides is about whether Aereo’s broadcasts and remote recordings are “public performances” of copyrighted content.
Aereo says that its service just allows consumers to individually record and watch TV shows using its remote, cloud-based video service so it isn’t making public broadcasts. Broadcasters counter that the company’s transmissions to multiple subscribers are essentially public performances and are therefore subject to copyright protections.
In it’s filing, Aereo said that “the ‘one-to-one’ transmissions from Aereo’s equipment — individual transmissions from personal recordings created from data received by individual antennas — do not constitute ‘public’ performances.”
Aereo subscribers pay up to $12 a month for service that allows them to watch and record local broadcast TV stations on laptops and mobile devices. Aereo gets around having to pay local stations by renting subscribers a tiny individual antenna which receives local signals. Consumers can record and watch shows via a cloud-based video recorder service.
“Were Aereo to get its way, copyright protection would be diluted, the value of copyrights in broadcast programming would decline, and there could be fewer programs created for the public to enjoy,” a spokesman for the broadcasters said Wednesday in a written rebuttal of Aereo’s filing.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department publicly sided with the networks, filing a brief arguing that Aereo is infringing on the broadcasters’ copyrights. Obama administration lawyers did suggest that the justices shouldn’t look too broadly at this case and argued that the court shouldn’t consider the legality of other non-related, cloud-based services.
Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on April 22 with a decision expected this summer.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Kanojia suggested the company isn’t sure what it will do if the Supreme Court sides with broadcasters in the case, telling Bloomberg TV that “progress is important. The mission of this company was to try to create an open platform, try to wedge the system open a bit.”
“And if we don’t succeed in that, despite our best efforts and good law on our side and the merits of our case, it would be a tragedy, but it is what it is,” he continued.
NBCUniversal, which is an investor in the parent company of Re/code, is a party in this case.