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All Eyes on Aereo Supreme Court Case, As Case Highlights Copyright Law Absurdities

Posted by: , 22:12 AEST, Thu May 1, 2014

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Clever or too smart for their own good, U.S. Supreme Court set to rule on Aereo case that highlights the absurdities of digital copyright law
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Image/Photo Credit: Aereo

With oral arguments heard in the now much publicized Aereo case, all interested parties now await the Supreme Court ruling that will decide whether Aereo has successfully navigated around the confusing waters of digital copyright law, or whether they were simply being too clever for their own good.

A brief backgrounder on Aereo. For $8 per month, the company offers subscribers the ability to access live TV streaming on mobile devices via the Internet, plus 20 hours of DVR space for time-shifting programs. Aereo gets around the issue of broadcast licensing by manufacturing and using thousands of tiny antennas, each assigned to a single subscriber and used to receive the TV broadcasts that are then recorded or re-transmitted.

In 2012, Aereo was sued by a coalition of TV networks, including Fox, PBS, ABC, NBC and Univision for unauthorized re-broadcasting of their channels. Aereo defended their business model by pointing to the fact that each subscriber has their own antenna, and as such, they are only accessing their own channels and programs - no re-broadcasting (emphasis on the "broad", as in to many people) have occurred.

The studios argue that Aereo is simply being too clever in trying to circumvent copyright laws by using a ridiculous set up of thousands upon thousands of tiny antennas (each the size of a dime), in order to escape paying broadcast licensing fees.

A Federal court has already ruled in favor of Aereo, citing the 2008 Cablevision case which established the legality of cloud-based streaming and DVR services. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this verdict on appeal. 

Which brings us to the current Supreme Court case, in which the TV networks have one final chance to seek a favorable ruling.

At the heart of the case is the interpretation of what constitutes a re-broadcast. While Aereo appears to be complying with current copyright laws, through the use of thousands of redundant mini antennas, the studios would argue is it not following the spirit of it. The Supreme Court would then have to take into account all of these aspects and decide whether strict interpretation of the law, or innovation, wins out in the end.

The court is expected to release its ruling at the end of May.


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