EchoStar/Dish: Aereo's a New Twist On Old Stuff

EchoStar and Dish Network told the U.S. Supreme Court that copyright owners must not be allowed to expand their "monopoly" into "the realm of private noncommercial activity."

That came in an amicus brief to the court in support of Aereo. The "private, noncommercial activity" at issue is Aereo subscribers access over the Internet of Aereo's remote antennas and DVRs to view and copy broadcast TV station signals.

Aereo charges for its services, but Echostar/Dish said, "Just because a third party intermediary has found a way to give value to consumers in connection with their individual lawful uses of copyrighted material does not mean that the copyright owner is entitled to invade the province of rights reserved to the public."

Those rights are to watch free TV and to make copies for home use.

Dish points out that it is in the business of innovative TV distribution technologies, including the Hopper with Sling Whole Home HD DVR, which also drew complaints and a lawsuit from broadcasters challenging its ad-skipping innovation.

Aereo is simply a new way to do the same old things, said EchoStar/Dish. The activity is to "direct individualized antennas to receive free broadcast signals, make individualized copies of desired programming, and view that programming privately and for noncommercial purposes. The only difference is that the users do not purchase and maintain the equipment."

Echostar/Dish warned the court that its decision could affect the future of cloud computing and even Internet hyperlinks.

The company likened Aereo to Slingbox, Roamio, or Google Play, and likened them all to dumbwaiters.

"None of these devices does anything without an end-user’s command. They are like dumbwaiters, incapable of delivering a pail of water without the thirsty person tugging on ropes and pulleys. If an individual uses that dumbwaiter to fetch himself a video he recorded of Breaking Bad, the dumbwaiter manufacturer does not infringe a copyright in the show," the brief says.

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the matter on 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.