Media

Aereo says people have a legal right to rabbit ears and DVRs, countersues the big TV networks

Aereo, the New York startup that is building a new system for streaming and recoding live TV, is countersuing the big TV networks that filed a lawsuit against it at the beginning of this month. The company, which is backed by local investors like First Round Capital and Barry Diller’s IAC, says that the courts have already ruled in favor of their technology, just not in this innovative new form.

Aereo allows anyone to rent a tiny antenna, about the size of a dime, that captures TV signals out of the air and streams them over the web. It also lets users record those shows and play them back anytime they like on any device. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and others have sued Aereo, saying that the service is rebroadcasting their programming without paying the appropriate licensing fees.

In a statement emailed to VentureBeat yesterday, Aereo highlights the legal history of the VCR and DVR in arguing its case:

This case involves nothing more than the application of settled law to updated technology — settled law that establishes conclusively that Aereo’s business is entirely lawful. Plantiff’s Complaints fails because Aereo merely provides technology that consumer may use to what they are legall entitled to do: (1) access free and legally accessible over the air television broadcasts using an antenna; (2) create individiual, unique recording of those broadcasts for personal use, see Sony Cor. of America vs Universal Studios, Inc, 464 U.S. 417 (1984); and (3) record and play back those unique recording utilizing a remotely-located digital video recorder (“DVR”) to personal devices, see Cartoon Network L.P. vs CSC Holdings Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2nd Circ. 2008). 

The big studios have been fighting recording technology for decades, and technology companies, from Sony to Aereo, have been trying to find ways to improve the consumer experience. Barry Diller, who helped create Fox, USA and QVC, is no stranger to the world of television and not shy about getting into it with the traditional media companies. “It’s going to be a great fight,” Diller told the audience during a panel at SXSW.

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