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Supreme Court Rules Aereo’s T.V. Streaming Services Violate Copyright Law 06/30/2014

Posted by Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton in Intellectual Property.
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Intellectual Property Attorney Sheri MasonBy: Sheri Mason

On June 25, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Aereo, Inc.’s T.V. streaming services violate U.S. copyright law, reversing the Second Circuit’s decision that held that Aereo’s system (which consists of tiny antennas housed in a centralized location) “amounted to nothing more than a cloud-computing version of old fashion rabbit ears – a private transmission within the home.”

In a decision written by Justice Breyer, the Court reasoned that Aereo’s system does not provide a “private performance” similar to an off-site digital video recorder, but rather provides a “public performance” within the meaning of the Copyright Act’s “Transmit Clause” in violation of the major television networks’ copyrighted works.  To reach this decision the Court determined, first, that Aereo “performs” broadcast works because it allows its paid subscribers to watch T.V. programs at virtually the same time they are being broadcast, like CATV companies.  Second, the Court determined that Aereo transmits these works to “the public” because it communicates its transmissions “to a large number of people who are unrelated and unknown to each other.”

While there is concern that this ruling may impose copyright liability on other cloud-based technologies, the Supreme Court made clear that its ruling only applies to Aereo’s system and that Congress “did not intend to discourage or control the emergence or use of different kinds of technologies.”  Whether or not providers of other technologies violate the Transmit Clause – or other provisions of the Copyright Act – will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The full opinion can be found here.

For more information on copyright law, please feel free to contact Sheri.

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