Consumer Groups Back Aereo with Supremes

The Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union have told the Supreme Court that Aereo's online TV station delivery technology, and ones like it, are "entirely legal, benefit consumers, strengthen broadcast distribution, and promote competition."

That came in an amicus brief in the court's review of Aereo's legality.

The groups said that Aereo's "time and place-shifting technology"—it does not talk about it in terms of a distribution service—furthers a "fundamental public interest" by "promoting flexible personal use of locally available free OTA broadcasts."

The baseline of Aereo's defense is that it does not provide a public performance subject to copyright payments or a retransmission subject to retrans payments but is instead a technology allowing users to remotely access free TV and protected home taping capabilities to create their own private performance of that TV station content at will.

"By giving consumers a meaningful choice of a cloud-based method for enabling private performances of live or time- and place-shifted OTA television, Aereo’s technology promotes consumer sovereignty and bridges the digital divide," say the consumer groups.

It is clear their fear is of distributors' market power if Aereo's arguments fail in court.

"For the past thirty years, this Court has consistently urged caution in restricting technologies with significant potential for lawful consumer use. Finding Aereo to be a retransmitter, rather than an equipment provider enabling consumers to enjoy lawful private performances, would restrict consumer sovereignty and permit incumbent providers to dictate terms on which significant technological innovations will be made available to consumers of free OTA broadcasts."

They also argue that upholding Aereo is an important protection for cloud computing.

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case April 22.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.