Disruptive start-up company Aereo has won a significant reprieve in its attempts to deliver broadcast television transmissions over the internet. A majority decision by an appeals court has upheld an earlier ruling, denying a motion from broadcasters for an injunction against the company. Although the case continues, Aereo is now planning to roll out the service nationwide across the United States.
Aereo uses centrally sited arrays of miniature antennae that are dynamically allocated to individual users to receive and record free-to-air television signals and deliver programming over the internet to browsers, Apple iOS devices or Roku boxes, for a monthly subscription fee. The service is currently available in metropolitan New York.
The court ruling concluded that the transmissions of unique copies of broadcast television programmes created at the request of users and transmitted while the programmes are still airing on broadcast television are not “public performances”.
It said the district court was correct in considering the Aereo system in the context of an earlier ruling in favour of Cablevision, which allowed that remotely storing material at user request and replaying it later to the original audience did not constitute unlawful copying.
Chet Kanojia, the founder and chief executive of Aereo, said the decision “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 watch television”.
“We may be a small start-up, but we’ve always believed in standing up and fighting for our consumers,” he said. “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.”
The ruling effectively enables Aereo, Backed by Barry Diller and IAC InterActive, among others, to continue its planned expansion into 22 new markets nationwide across the United States. However, it is far from the end of the long legal road ahead of Aereo, with the legal case continuing, which could ultimately end up with changes in the law.
The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents the interest of free to air broadcasters in the United States and organises the NAB trade show in Las Vegas, said it was disappointed with the decision.
It cited the lengthy dissenting opinion of one of the three judges, which called the Aereo technology platform a “sham”. In a reference to the elaborate contraptions conceived by an American cartoonist, it described it as a “Rube Goldberg-like contrivance, over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act and to take advantage of a perceived loophole in the law.”
Intriguingly, Aereo has apparently been in talks over possible partnerships with AT&T and Dish Network.
The Aereo case could have significant implications for broadcasters seeking to impose retransmission fees on service providers for carrying their signals.
The irony is that these high-definition signals can be freely received by anyone with an antenna. Aereo would argue is that all it is doing is providing reception of those signals on behalf of its customers, which is where cable television originally started.
The decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is in the case of WNET, Thirteen v. Aereo, Inc.; Am. Broad. Cos., Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.