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Supreme Court Soon to Consider Whether to Take Aereo Case

Could decide future of broadcast TV model

Photo: Getty Images

The Supreme Court may decide Jan. 10 whether to review broadcasters' beef against Aereo. The court will announce soon thereafter if it will hear the case in 2014.

Broadcasters, including TV owners Disney, CBS, NBCUniversal, Fox, Univision, Public Broadcasting Service, and Tribune, petitioned the Supreme Court to review their copyright infringement case against Aereo in October. 

Since Aereo launched nearly two years ago offering consumers streams of local broadcast signals over the Internet for about $8 a month, broadcasters have been up in arms, accusing the service of copyright infringement. Aereo defends its service by arguing that it is merely renting consumers an antenna and that its streaming service represents a private performance.

While Aereo won an important decision in a New York court, a copycat service called FilmOn lost in a Washington, D.C., court, giving broadcasters the opening they needed to ask the Supreme Court to settle the case once and for all.

There are other outstanding cases against Aereo in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Boston, and broadcasters have vowed to fight the service in every market where it launches.

At stake is nothing short of the future broadcast business model, which has become increasingly more reliant on retransmission consent fees from cable and other pay TV providers for revenue. Network TV execs haven't been shy about blasting the service. Fox chief executive Chase Carey threatened to turn all Fox programming into cable channels if Aereo wins in court. CBS' Les Moonves said he was tired talking about what he calls an "illegal" service, threatening more than once to bring all legal resources to bear to defend CBS' copyright. 

Aereo, now in 10 markets, said it welcomes its day in court because it is providing a personal performance of content.   

Broadcasters are pulling out all the stops to win against Aereo. Among the groups that filed amicus briefs supporting broadcasters are the NFL, Viacom, the National Association of Broadcasters, ASCAP and the Copyright Alliance, among others.

Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief supporting Aereo, arguing that consumers should not be deprived of the right to watch broadcast TV using any technology they choose and that Aereo's service is no different than using an antenna or rabbit ears on a TV set.

While PK and EFF argue it's all about an individual's right to a private performance, broadcasters charge that Aereo's technology is nothing but a gimmick to steal copyright. 

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