Aereo, the service that streams over-the-air broadcast TV to mobile devices using remote antenna and cloud DVR technology, is about to get its day in court. But before its copyright infringement case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this coming Tuesday, Aereo is taking its case to the web.
To promote its position — and sway public opinion — Aereo on Thursday launched its "Protect My Antenna" website. The site outlines the reasons Aereo believes its business model complies with fair-use guidelines.
And that's the central issue at play in Tuesday's Supreme Court case — what constitutes fair use under the U.S. Copyright Act. Aereo contends that a ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2008 case involving Cablevision (as well as the Supreme Court's own Sony v. Universal ruling in 1984) lets TV users record and store broadcasted programs for personal entertainment under the Copyright Act. (You'll recognize Sony v. Universal as the "Betamax" case, which essentially allowed the 1980s version of you to fill up VCR cassettes with Cosby Show episodes without any fear of legal prosecution.) Since the broadcast TV signals you're recording with Aereo are for personal use, the company argues, it's a private performance that falls under the principle of fair use. And because each Aereo subscriber leases their own antenna and their own personal DVR recordings, Aereo believes it's operating within the law when it streams over-the-air TV signals via the Internet.
The major broadcast networks, led by ABC, see it differently. The antenna used to access content is stored at a central hub instead of the user's home, the networks argue; what's more, because Aereo is profiting off of the service being provided, it should have to pay royalties for using TV networks' content. The networks have been battling Aereo in court with mixed success: In late 2012, a federal judge rejected a move to block Aereo from doing business in New York City, but more recent rulings have forced Aereo out of Denver and Salt Lake City.
Which brings us to Tuesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court, and Aereo's push to argue its position in the (online) court of public opinion. The Protect My Antenna site features tons of content, including opinions, briefs and amicus briefs from lower court trials.
Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia is also making the rounds to educate the public about the case. Kanojia was interviewed by Yahoo News correspondent Katie Couric, where he outlined what's at stake for Aereo in the case.
"I think it would be a tragic outcome for a company that had the courage to step up," Kanojia told Couric. "I think we'll figure out something, or if not, if there's no viable business, then we'll probably go out of business. ... I do know that the technology we've built is tremendously valuable to a lot of people."
We'll get an early indication of whether a majority of justices agree next Tuesday, when the case goes before the Supreme Court, though it will be a month or two before the Court announces its opinion.
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