High Court Agrees To Hear Aereo Case

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to weigh in on the court fracas over Aereo, which means a decision could be rendered by June that will help shape copyright law and the distribution of over-the-top video.

The court released the decision on Friday (Jan. 10), and its brevity belied the big issues that hang in the balance.

“The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted,” the court said without elaboration, beyond pointing out that Justice Samuel Alito took no part in the decision. That could be because he has stock in one of the companies, but the justices are never required to say why they are recusing themselves.

Aereo had joined broadcasters in saying the court should resolve the issue of whether it is simply providing remote access to TV station signals or is retransmitting a performance without compensation in violation of the copyright laws.

Commenting on the prospects of the Supreme Court taking the case, National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith had told Multichannel News earlier in the day that the court’s decision would be “hugely important in terms of over-the-top and whether copyright means what it historically meant.”

Cablevision Systems has argued that Aereo’s service violates copyright laws, but it is not happy that broadcasters tied Aereo to the legality of Cablevision’s remote-storage DVR service. Cablevision fears that could “cripple cloud-based innovation in the U.S.,” a point seconded by Charter Communications.

“Cablevision remains confident that while the Aereo service violates copyright, the Supreme Court will find persuasive grounds for invalidating Aereo without relying on the broadcasters’ overreaching — and wrong — copyright arguments that challenge the legal underpinning of all cloud-based services,” the company said Friday.

If Aereo is found to be legal, cable operators could have an incentive to migrate to an over-the-top model that allows them to deliver TV stations without compensation. Bigticket sports might have an impetus to move to pay TV.

The National Football League and Major League Baseball have warned that if Aereo wins and doesn’t have to pay for delivering signals, the so-called high-value, non-substitutable sports events — such as the Super Bowl and the World Series — would be moving to pay TV.

“Our hope is that the court will affirm that you can’t take over-the-air stuff and sell it to other people without triggering copyright protections,” the NAB’s Smith said.


The Supreme Court has agreed to decide on a preliminary injunction blocking Aereo from delivering broadcast-TV signals over the top, a move that could shape the future of online content distribution.

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.