U.S. TV Networks Fail In Shutting Down Aereo

Posted Apr 1, 2013

Several U.S. TV networks have been unable to persuade an appeals court to have Aereo Inc. shut-down.  Aereo lets subscribers view live and time-shifted streams of over-the-air TV through Internet-connected devices.  The company launched in February 2012 and was backed by InterActiveCorp.  When Aereo Inc. launched in New York City, they were sued by CBS, NBCUniversal, Fox, and ABC for copyright infringement.  The TV networks were not able to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York to overturn a lower-court order that denied a preliminary injunction that would have put Aereo out of business.

The TV networks said that Aereo was infringing on copyrights by grabbing their over-the-air signals and retransmitting them to subscribers on computers and smartphones.  Aereo’s transmissions are public performances and requires licenses, but the TV networks said that it would devalue their programming and cut viewership.  The networks said that this would jeopardize their revenue from advertising and pay-TV providers.

The TV networks also recently sued a pay-TV company called Cablevision Systems Corp.  Cablevision offered subscribers a remote digital video recording service for TV shows.  The same appeals court ruled that Cablevision was not providing public performances of copyrighted content.  U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan cited this case when denying the injunction against Aereo.  Two other judges in a three-judge panel agreed with her.  Circuit Judge Denny Chin was the judge that did not approve of Aereo’s model.  Chin said that Aereo’s system is considered a product that was “over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act.”

The TV networks argued that the Cablevision case does not apply to Aereo since Cablevision is a storage service and not a retransmissions service.  Aereo said that subscribers get access to broadcast programming and allows them to record the content using remotely located individual antennas and digital video recorders for playback.  They said that this constitutes as private performance under copyright law.  The appeals court agreed and compared Aereo’s remote digital antennas to a rooftop antenna that grabs broadcast signals and transmits the content onto TVs in a house.

Aereo charges $12 per month to access broadcasts and is currently offered to New Yorkers.  The company plans to eventually expand into other areas like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.