U.S. Supreme Court

Does Aereo's Internet TV service violate network copyright? SCOTUS to decide

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Aereo violates network copyrights when it uses miniature antennas to transmit TV programs over the Internet to its subscribers.

The Supreme Court granted cert Friday afternoon, report the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. SCOTUSblog links to the cert petition (PDF) at its case page.

According to the The BLT, the “high-stakes copyright dispute … could shake the television industry to its core.”

At issue is whether the service violates the Copyright Act, which requires permission of a copyright holder to “perform the copyrighted work publicly.” Aereo argues its transmission of live broadcast signals amounts to thousands of private performances, rather than a public performance. Its customers view the network programs on smartphones, tablets and computers.

“For decades, it has been settled law that third parties, such as cable and satellite operators, must obtain authorization to retransmit over-the-air broadcasts of television programs to the public,” according to the cert petition filed by broadcast networks ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS, along with other plaintiffs. “The broadcast television industry has invested billions of dollars producing and assembling high-quality and creative entertainment and news programming in reliance on this legal regime, which prevents retransmission services from free-riding on broadcasters’ investments.”

CBS and Fox have already indicated they would consider become pay cable channels, rather than public broadcast networks, if the court rules for Aereo. The case is ABC Inc. v. Aereo Inc.

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