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Aereo case to go to US Supreme Court as major US broadcasters continue battle to halt internet TV challenger

By Angela Haggerty, Reporter

January 13, 2014 | 4 min read

A landmark case in the US brought by major TV broadcasters including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox against an internet streaming service, Aereo, has the potential to rock the traditional TV broadcasting model, according to reports.

Upstart start-up: Aereo is causing problems for major broadcasters

The US Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear the dispute between a number of major broadcasters and the streaming service, which major networks say is breaching copyright law.

Aereo, a two-year-old company that streams over-the-air TV programmes online for $8 per month by dipping into TV signals, claims its service is legal and welcomed the court’s decision to hear the case.

In a statement, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia, said: “We said from the beginning that it was our hope that this case would be decided on the merits and not through a wasteful war of attrition.

“We look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court and we have every confidence that the court will validate and preserve and consumer’s right to access local over-the-air televisions with an individual antenna, make a personal recording with a DVR, and that recording on a device of their choice.”

The court will decide whether or not Aereo’s system of assigning a tiny antenna to each subscriber is a form of broadcasting to the public, and therefore illegal, or whether the service should instead be considered as a form of remote digital video recording (DVR), which is considered private and would not breach copyright laws.

On Aereo’s website, the company explains how the system works: “As an Aereo member, you have access to a tiny TV antenna located in a data centre near you. This antenna is connected to a remote DVR in the same data centre.

“You control both from an internet-connected device, such as your computer or smartphone. When you tune to a channel through Aereo application on your device, you instruct your antenna to tune to that channel and start recording the programming to the DVR.

“This lets you pause and rewind the programme while you’re watching. To save this recording for future use, you simply hit “record” at any time while watching. You can also schedule your DVR to record shows that are on in the future, just like you can with a DVR in your home.”

As Aereo only offers access to over-the-air TV programming, broadcasters could begin pulling major TV shows from channels and moving them instead to paid-for channels on cable and satellite in a bid to halt Aereo in its tracks. In April last year, a Fox executive reportedly warned that TV shows like The Simpsons, Glee and American Idol could be pulled from public free-to-air transmissions and moved to cable.

Last year, the National Football League and Major League Baseball warned that they may move major events like the Super Bowl and World Series to cable if Aereo continues its service.

A Fox spokesperson was quoted as saying: “We are confident the court will recognise that this has never been about stifling new video distribution technologies, but has always been about stopping a copyright violator who redistributes television programming without permission or compensation.”

Shortly after its 2012 launch, Aereo was sued by ABS, CBS, Fox and NBC but federal courts in New York and Boston ruled on the side of Aereo, accepting its argument that the streams represent ‘private performances’ to individual users over leased antennas, not ‘public performances’ which are protected by copyright laws.

The progression of the case is being closely monitored by the TV and broadcasting industry in what is perceived to be a serious threat from new digital technologies to the traditional broadcasting revenue model.

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