U.S. Supreme Court: Barry Diller’s Aereo violates copyright law

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that online TV service Aereo, backed by media mogul Barry Diller, violates copyright law by using tiny antennas to provide subscribers with broadcast network content via the Internet,” CNBC reports. “On a 6-3 vote, the court handed a victory to the four major TV broadcasters and cast Aereo’s immediate future into doubt.”

“Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia said in a statement that the decision was ‘a massive setback for the American consumer,'” CNBC reports. “Networks involved in the case praised the ruling. The National Association of Broadcasters commended the Supreme Court for upholding ‘the concept of copyright protection that is enshrined in the Constitution.’ ‘Aereo characterized our lawsuit as an attack on innovation; that claim is demonstrably false,’ NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said in a statement. ‘Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message that businesses built on the theft of copyrighted material will not be tolerated.'”

“Major Aereo investor Diller told CNBC that ‘We did try, but it’s over now,'” CNBC reports. “‘It’s not a big [financial] loss for us, but I do believe blocking this technology is a big loss for consumers, and beyond that I only salute Chet Kanojia and his band of Aereo’lers for fighting the good fight,’ he said… Aereo, backed by Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp, charged users a low monthly fee to watch live or recorded broadcast TV channels on computers or mobile devices. Aereo did not pay the broadcasters. Any customer can buy an antenna and DVR for their home and watch and record their local channels, said Kanojia—adding that his company is doing the same thing but with more modern technology.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]

Related articles:
In Aereo Internet TV case, U.S. Supreme Court justices show concern – April 22, 2014
TV’s future is about to be decided by U.S. Supreme Court – April 17, 2014
US federal court suspends Aereo internet TV service in several states – February 20, 2014
By putting over-the-air online legally, Aereo clears the way for all TV everywhere – April 10, 2013
Apple is a winner in the Aereo online TV ruling, for now – July 12, 2012

28 Comments

  1. Pretty much a bummer. It was a great service but I understand what killed it. The Supremes decided the Aereo people were selling what was effectively supposed to be free. Seems to me they were selling the antenna, software, etc., not the content. IMHO SCOTUS blew it big on this one.

    1. Agreed. The good news is that copyright law can be tinkered, and the decision can be overturned by Congress.

      The bad news is that broadcasters have more money than Aereo, and will never let that happen.

    2. I agree. Not a good decision by the SC. Aereo’s service is fundamentally very similar to what TiVo does. Only the antenna and hard drive location are different. But, there’s no box next to the TV, so the Supreme Court obviously couldn’t see the parallel. Aereo should have sold a $99 box and made the subscription for the “guide” service – like Tivo does.

  2. I wonder if Aereo had not charged a monthly fee, but just sold the equipment outright, they would have had a better argument. But when they piggyback a paying service to someone else’s signal, then it becomes a different matter.

  3. The big mistake Aereo made was “leasing” antennas.

    One, they should sell antennas, with serial numbers, and they can’t be small, they have to be reasonably large enough to receive the signal. They have to demonstrate that the signal is traveling from the station, to the antenna, to storage to the customer in a silo, that cannot be shared or transferred to anyone else.

    The reason why an antenna on a house, to a personal DVR and then Slingbox to your iPhone or iPad is legal, it is demonstrable that the programming cannot be shared and the end user has paid for all the equipment, including internet, to access the content. Single use.

    The impression I got from Aereo was that the antennas were symbolic and non-functional. And there is the real reason they lost. They were rebroadcasting under a false cover.

    1. Agreed. It’s not that hard. Put up an antenna and augment that with some online services.
      I did it two years ago and have saved well over $2000 even after paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime and every episode of the Walking Dead.

      1. Same here – I set up a Mac mini running EyeTV (DVR software), antenna and a couple HD HomeRun DUAL tuners. Once I got everything working (had to figure out how to connect the mini to my 2001 HDTV, which predates HDMI) I then dropped DirecTV in January 2013. I’ve saved over $2000 since then (less than a year and a half!) though I did go a little overboard with my mini setup, so it’ll be another 6 months or so before the savings pays off the investment.

        Between the 100+ OTA channels I receive here in Houston, and the “free” content on Amazon Prime, I have so much content that I haven’t felt the need to check out Netflix or Hulu.

        If anybody’s interested, I’ve been documenting this project in these blog entries over at AtariAge.
        http://atariage.com/forums/blog/blog-148/cat-150-dvr-project

  4. One impact of this that nobody seems to have considered is the impact on people who would like to record or “timeshift” broadcast television. Aereo was one of the very few options. With a multi-element rooftop antenna, I can get about 30 digital signals from this location (counting just English-language channels). The local cable and satellite services carry just 7. The ratio for Spanish channels is 7:2. I enjoy quite a bit of the programming on the extra digital channels, but most of it comes on when I am away, asleep, or otherwise occupied.

    When I got Dish Network, the 722 receiver included an off-air tuner for watching and recording all 30 channels. About three years ago, they “upgraded” to the 722k… which is identical, except that the off-air tuner is an option for $50 extra. More recently, they have gone to the Hopper receiver, which does not include an off-air tuner for any price. I have kept my old receiver, but when it dies so will my ability to use my Dish DVR to record programming on those 23 extra channels. I could only record the other 7 and only in the highly-compressed form coming in over the satellite.

    I can still buy a VCR, but they only record standard-definition analog signals. Old machines can hook up to a converter, but there is no way to program channel changes for unattended recording. New machines do not have a broadcast tuner at all, digital or analog. They can only record by connecting to external devices that provide an analog video signal.

    Stand-alone DVRs that can record HD digital signals off the air are few and far between. If you are willing to pay an additional monthly service fee, Tivo has a digital tuner, but only in its cheapest model. The two “upscale” recorders with added features do not have any means for recording off-air signals. If Tivo follows the Dish example, the tuner will disappear with the next “upgrade” to the base recorder.

    Obviously, I can still watch those 23 channels live, just as I can watch the higher-quality uncompressed HD signal on the other 7 without cable or satellite, but I will soon be unable to record any of them. For all practical purposes, Free TV will be dead, since I can’t watch any broadcast station without paying a fee or watching only live programming as it is broadcast.

    Those of you who have access to adequate broadband can cut the cord, but I can’t watch HD TV on two sets with a 3.5 Mbps connection, which is the fastest Verizon Broadband sells at my location. I don’t live in the boondocks. This is one of the 10 fastest-growing cities with over 50,000 population in America and I am less than a mile from the main phone switch. The people who live here are not hicks. Some of them work in the factory that makes Mac Pros; others work in the fab that makes A7 CPUs.

    Isn’t free enterprise wonderful?

    1. Same here, but with DirecTV. Not really thrilled with the way the industry is going. I don’t like the bundler’s model (satellite, cable, etc.), and I don’t like that the content owners bend over for them because the bundler in essence becomes the important customer in the equation, not the end user.

      We’re actually getting ready to move and I’m very seriously considering cutting the cord and just going back to broadcast TV, with streaming via Apple TV, Roku, etc. to fill the gaps, or maybe the other way around. I get a grand back in my pocket every year… I especially like that part. I can take the family on a long weekend getaway and make some memories instead of zoning out on crap TV all year ’round. Seems like a pretty good trade to me.

    2. It is amazing that you can go to Best Buy and say “I want to record off air broadcast TV.” and they have absolutely nothing to help you. The VHS and DVDs are long gone. Tivo requires an expensive cable package, and you lose everything if you stop paying.

      Who says technology marches forward?

      1. Best Buy only offer TiVo, which has nothing to do with other options. One friend speculates that Best Buy get a commission for TiVo devices and contracts they sell.

        I still use my DVD recorder (DVD-RAM) and also have Elgato’s eyetv HD. I do what I want! 😀

          1. All their gear? That’s news to me. I saw their gear in an Apple Store, the last time I visited (a few months ago). Or do you mean the eyeTV HD? That I know about.

            I get the sense that the Media Oligarchy is attempting to force out of business any method of recording video media.

      2. There are some USB TV tuners which you can connect to your antenna and record directly to your computer. I think they even provide software such that you can record shows on certain channels at certain times.
        I haven’t tried this yet but I was studying it for a while.

  5. “One impact of this that nobody seems to have considered is the impact on people who would like to record or “timeshift” broadcast television.”

    Well – implicit in stating it like that would seem to be that should be taken into account in the legal decision. If that’s what you mean, I don’t think so. If it’s copyright violation, then it’s copyright violation. The fact that people want to do x or y doesn’t change that. Perhaps it’s up to the companies to provide you with the technology – not to the courts to allow lawbreakers to provide it.

    1. I will assume you don’t live in the USA. Whatever the law may be where you live, time shifting is perfectly legal here. The Supreme Court guaranteed that right, 20-odd years ago when the networks tried to ban VCRs. The question isn’t if I have the right to time shift programming, only if I have the ability… which I don’t because the content providers have the political power to stifle competitors like Aereo and Elgato. AppleTV is obviously facing the same deal. Many of its channels, like upmarket TiVo, require a cable subscription.

  6. IMHO it was obvious that Aereo was going to lose. But I can’t fault them for giving it a try. Perhaps there’s another model that will work. There certainly are a lot of areas of the USA with lousy digital TV reception.

  7. I think what many of you who are disappointed fail to take into account is how vital retransmission fees are to local broadcasters.

    Since ad revenue is not what it used to be, the decline which coincided with the expensive and sloppy roll out of digital transmissions, any revenue lost due to the finagling of Aero’s business model would seriously hurt many local broadcasters.

    Now for those of you who are still wondering how this could happen, every cable company that now pays retransmit fees (and passes the price on to you…) would do the same as Aero and word their way out of paying anything.

    And THAT’S why this decision was good (and obvious…).

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