The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that the Aereo television streaming service violates U.S. copyright law, dealing a setback to the company in a closely watched legal battle between traditional broadcasters and an emerging cloud-based technology.
Aereo’s service gives each of its paid subscribers a tiny dedicated television antenna and DVR in a remote data center, allowing them to stream the content over the Internet to a variety of devices. Aereo argued that the individual antennas made the service legal under copyright law, simply making it easier for television viewers to capture and view broadcast content.
Major broadcasters argued that the service constituted an illegal public performance of copyrighted work, and the Supreme Court agreed in its 6-3 ruling this morning.
The majority ruling, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, acknowledged concerns that the ruling “will impose copyright liability on other technologies, including new technologies, that Congress could not possibly have wanted to reach.” However, the ruling said, “we do not believe that our limited holding today will have that effect.”
Read the full opinion here, along with the dissent by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.
In a previous interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo News, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said a loss in the case would be a “tragic outcome for a company that had the courage to step up.”
Update: Here is the full statement from Kanojia on the ruling today …
“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry. It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’ (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?
“Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States. And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.”
“Justice Scalia’s dissent gets it right. He calls out the majority’s opinion as ‘built on the shakiest of foundations.’ (Dissent, page 7) Justice Scalia goes on to say that ‘The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable television systems, see ante, at 16-17, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.’ (Dissent, page 11)”
“We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done. We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”