Aereo wins in appeals court

Apr 1, 2013
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Aereo has survived another legal attack on its web TV service, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejecting an appeal by the big broadcasters angry with the streaming system the start-up offers. The networks had hoped to overturn a 2012 ruling that gave Aereo the green light to launch in New York City last year, but the appeals court decided that Aereo's service basically follows the path laid down by Cablevision's web-based RS-DVR.

That had been the subject of a lawsuit - and subsequent appeal - by copyright holders angry that Cablevision was hosting a copy of their movies and TV shows in the cloud without separate licensing. Cablevision argued (and won on the argument that) it was not a video-on-demand service, given it was recording individual copies of broadcasts for each user, and only if they had initially requested that recording.

Aereo's system, the appeals court decided [pdf link], works in the same fundamental way. A copy per user is stored, rather than a single master from which all broadcasts are shown, and it is not a public broadcast.

"When an Aereo customer elects to watch or record a program using either the “Watch” or “Record” features, Aereo’s system creates a unique copy of that program on a portion of a hard drive assigned only to that Aereo user. And when an Aereo user chooses to watch the recorded program, whether (nearly) live or days after the program has aired, the transmission sent by Aereo and received by that user is generated from that unique copy. No other Aereo user can ever receive a transmission from that copy. Thus, just as in Cablevision, the potential audience of each Aereo transmission is the single user who requested that a program be recorded"

In fact, the appeals court compares the Aereo system and the precedent set by the Cablevision ruling in-depth, with particular emphasis on the fact that each user has dedicated access to a specific Aereo antenna. The minutiae of the 1976 copyright act - and the fact that the current media technology landscape differs significantly from the "environment of 1976" - also gets investigated.

aereo_antenna_array2

One member of the appeals court, Judge Chin, disagrees with the overall ruling, describing Aereo's system as "a sham" and arguing that the antenna array is "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." However, his opinion won't provide much solace to the broadcasters, who now face a supreme court battle if they want to stop Aereo's service.

That service could well get a kick thanks to today's appeal court ruling. The cloud of litigation had reportedly been a thorn in Aereo's expansion plans, which include chatter of a deal with AT&T and/or DISH. That could see Aereo service bundled with AT&T broadband plans, insiders claim.

[via The Verge]


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