JUNE 25, 2014: The U.S. Supreme Court found Aereo, Inc. violated the copyright of television producers, marketers, distributors,and broadcasters when it provided a service to allow its subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet contemporaneously with the live broadcast. The S. Court opinion summarized the technology as follows:
When a subscriber wants to watch a show that is currently airing, he selects the show from a menu on Aereo’s website. Aereo’s system, which consists of thousands of small antennas and other equipment housed in a centralized warehouse, responds roughly as follows: A server tunes an antenna, which is dedicated to the use of one subscriber alone, to the broadcast carrying the selected show. A transcoder translates the signals received by the antenna into data that can be transmitted over the Internet. A server saves the data in a subscriber-specific folder on Aereo’s hard drive and begins streaming the show to the subscriber’s screen once several seconds of programming have been saved. The streaming continues, a few seconds behind the over-the-air broadcast, until the subscriber has received the entire show.
Aereo attempted to navigate around copyright limitations by using a tiny individual antenna for each of its subscribers….thus holding itself out as an equipment provider. However, the S. Court held found:
Viewed in terms of Congress’ regulatory objectives, these behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly. Congress would as much have intended to protect a copyright holder from the unlicensed activities of Aereo as from those of cable companies.
Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Thomas and Alito joined. Full opinion.