Aereo captures TV signals sent by broadcasters over public airwaves, then streams the live TV to a tiny antenna for storage. Aereo users can watch their favorite shows from their computers or mobile devices via the Internet whenever they want by accessing their Aereo antenna.
The American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. protested Aereo’s tech-savvy, saying Aereo is stealing signals. Cable companies also capture TV signals, but they pay ABC a fee.
During the oral arguments in April, Solicitor General Paul Clement described Aereo as backhandedly using technology to break the law.
“Aereo’s business model is to enable thousands of paying customers to watch live TV online,” Clement said.
On the other hand, Aereo argued that they are only making shows more conveniently available to the average TV-watcher. After all, the signals are already “available” because they’re sent over public airwaves.
In the Supreme Court’s opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “These behind-the-scenes technological advances do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly.”
That means Aereo is no different from a cable company, and therefore must pay ABC a fee if they want to keep streaming live television.
“Aereo is not merely an equipment provider,” Breyer said. “Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast.”
While the broadcasters have gotten their way, some sources claim the decision is not as wonderful as it seems. The musicFIRST Coalition Executive Director Ted Kalo believes the ABC v. Aereo decision is actually very bad for the National Association of Broadcasters.
“In their radio business, NAB members commit the exact sin that they condemn in Aereo – they use music as the foundation of their programming, yet refuse to pay the artists and labels who created the music a cent,” Kalo said in a statement.
“NAB members twist the copyright laws to deny creators fair pay just as Aereo did, only on a vastly greater scale. As momentum builds in Congress to close the AM/FM performance loophole once and for all, NAB and its members may find their win over Aereo read back to them as Exhibit A in the case for fair pay for all creators across the board.”
Mair Strategies President Liz Mair also pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision could have serious implications for radio broadcasters.
“While on the face of it, the decision is great for broadcasters, it’s actually terrible news for them in this key respect: The decision makes clear that no one gets to profit from use of someone else’s creative property without paying fair market value for use of said property,” Mair wrote in an email to The Daily Caller.
“That, unfortunately for broadcasters, is exactly what they are doing when they refuse to pay artists and labels where they play their music on terrestrial radio.”
According to a Los Angeles Times interview with Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, Aereo has no back-up plan for the loss.
“It may mean the end of our company,” Kanojia said before the oral arguments began in April.