Updated with a statement from Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia at 9:02 a.m. Pacific.
After months of suspense, Aereo is dead.
The streaming service, which enables people within a set local region to stream and record video content that’s freely broadcasted over the air, was shut down by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision today. The high court ruled that Aereo was guilty of copyright infringement — thus handing a victory to major broadcast TV networks.
Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the final court decision. “We must decide whether respondent Aereo, Inc., infringes this exclusive [copy]right by selling its subscribers a technologically complex service that allows them to watch television programs over the Internet at about the same time as the programs are broadcast over the air,” Breyer wrote. “We conclude that it does.”
Aereo uses tiny antennas for each person that subscribes to its $8 monthly service. Big media companies that own broadcast TV stations (such as ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) say access to the over-the-air content isn’t free, and they have taken Aereo to court many times over the last year citing copyright infringement. The broadcasters think Aereo should pay licensing fees as well as damages for the time in which the service has operated without paying licensing fees.
The Supreme Court first heard the case in April. At the time Aereo was confident it would see victory over the behemoth broadcast media companies it was pitted against, due in large part to the repeated rulings by lower courts that agreed with Aereo’s logic. At the same time Aereo cofounder and CEO Chet Kanojia went on record stating that the service wouldn’t be able to survive if the high court ruled that Aereo was infringing upon copyrights.
Consumer advocates agreed Aereo should have access to freely broadcasted content. But with Aereo now charged with copyright infringement, it gives the giant TV networks more authority over how those over-the-air broadcasts are used.
The court noted in its opinion that it doesn’t believe this decision will discourage the development of new technological innovation.
Update (9:02 a.m. PST): Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia has released the following statement regarding today’s Supreme Court decision:
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 its 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.