An appeals court today declined a group of major television broadcasters’ request to temporarily shut down Aereo, a streaming video service that lets users watch live and recorded television over the Internet. The collection of broadcasters – which includes Disney, CBS, NBCUniversal, Twentieth Century Fox and eight others— submitted their request on the grounds that Aereo’s service infringes their copyrights.
Aereo launched in March 2012 in the New York City area, where it has stayed ever since. For a fee of $12 per month, it gives users the ability to watch and record content from the likes of ABC, Fox, PBS, NBC, CBS, the CW and various local channels on their computers, smartphones and tablets. Aereo does this by manufacturing tiny HDTV antennas for each user that capture broadcast TV signals for viewing and storing on the company’s own remote servers.
The group of TV broadcasters almost immediately went after Aereo on the grounds that it was essentially stealing and retransmitting their content without a proper license. The broadcasters fear that a service like Aereo’s would illegally cut into their viewership and inevitably cost them revenue.
The fact that Aereo doesn’t have a license to broadcast the material differentiates it from Cablevision, the broadcasters say, which was similarly accused of violating copyright with its DVR service in a separate 2008 case.
Aereo, however, has maintained that its service merely provides users with the license to the antennas and remotely stored DVR content instead of the content itself.
The broadcasters’ initial injunction was denied last July, when a New York judge allowed Aereo to continue operating as the case carried on. But today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied the networks\’ latest petition to put Aereo out of business, saying that they “have not demonstrated that they are likely to prevail on the merits on this claim in their copyright infringement action.”
The appeals court affirmed that Aereo’s service does not constitute ‘public performances’ of copyrighted content. Instead, the court said that Aereo broadcasts are unique and private to each viewer, and thus do not require a license.
“When an Aereo customer elects to watch or record a program using either the ‘Watch’ or ‘Record’ features, Aereo’s system creates a unique copy of that program on a portion of a hard drive assigned only to that Aereo user,” the ruling read. “And when an Aereo user chooses to watch the recorded program, whether (nearly) live or days after the program has aired, the transmission sent by Aereo and received by that user is generated from that unique copy. No other Aereo user can ever receive a transmission from that copy. Thus, just as in Cablevision, the potential audience of each Aereo transmission is the single user who requested that a program be recorded.”
The complete ruling can be found at the source link below.
Today’s decision may not mark the end of the case, however. In a joint statement, PBS, Fox and other plaintiffs in the case called the decision “a loss for the entire creative community.
\”The court has ruled that it is OK to steal copyrighted material and retransmit it without compensation,\” the statement read. \”While we are disappointed with this decision, we have and are considering our options to protect our programming.”
In a statement, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said, \”Today’s decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals again validates that Aereo’s technology falls squarely within the law and that’s a great thing for consumers who want more choice and flexibility in how, when and where they can watch television.\”
He continued, \”We may be a small start-up, but we’ve always believed in standing up and fighting for our consumers. We are grateful for the court’s thoughtful analysis and decision and we look forward to continuing to build a successful business that puts consumers first.”
If the broadcasters want to continue their complaint, they’ll have to win an appeal with either the Supreme Court or the complete Second Circuit.
Aereo’s legal problems have ostensibly cost it the opportunity to grow as a service, but earlier this year the company outlined its plans to expand its streaming out to 22 cities in the country. Just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T and Dish Network are showing interest in it too. So while it isn’t entirely out of the woods just yet, things appear to be looking up for the Aereo – and for streaming TV over the Internet in general.