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The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Broadcasters, Says Aereo Is Illegal

Aereo Antenna Courtesy Aereo

The broadcast networks stand victorious in the battle against streaming service Aereo. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the networks, striking down Aereo and the streaming service it provides users. It was a 6-3-decision ruling that Aereo, in its current incarnation, performs copyrighted works that belong to the broadcast networks.

Aereo is essentially a cloud-based DVR service that took local broadcast feeds—CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC—and made it streaming accessible for a fee. Basically, users were paying for TV they normally got for free, but could now access it in a variety of different ways, including via computers, on mobile devices or through a Roku box.

MORE: Get to know Aereo

The Supreme Court ruled that Aereo's service violates the Copyright Act of 1976 because its role in providing the service goes beyond Aereo's claim that it was simply the provider of technology subscribers could use as they wanted. The Court said Aereo's service is a performance and places it within the scope of the Copyright Act.

A performance is public when it "transmit[s]…a performance…of the work…to the public." Aereo claimed that its set up, which provided each individual subscriber with their own antenna to record the and create a user-specific copy, could not be a public performance because each transmission was only available to the single subscriber who created it. According to Aereo, all subscribers create their own individualized copies with their own individualized antennas. The Supreme Court rejected Aereo's non-public argument holding that "when an entity communicates the same contemporaneously perceptible images, it 'transmits... a performance' to them, irrespective of the number of discrete communications it makes and irrespective of whether it transmits using a single copy of the work or as Aereo does, using an individual personal copy for each viewer." 

Aereo as you know it is now illegal. Back to regular DVRs for you!

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Chet Kanojia, Aereo CEO and founder released a statement regarding the Supreme Court's decision and said Aereo is "disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done."

"Today's decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We've said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today's decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry," Kanojia said. "It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.' (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?"

Aereo's full statement can be found here.

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