Stakes are high on Aereo case, now before Supreme Court

Chet Kanojia's Aereo Inc. streams TV signals over the Internet to its subscribers without compensating the networks. Broadcast networks say that violates copyright law, and their case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chet Kanojia's Aereo Inc. streams TV signals over the Internet to its subscribers without compensating the networks. Broadcast networks say that violates copyright law, and their case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. (Bloomberg)
Posted: June 25, 2014

Television broadcasters' case against streaming company Aereo Inc. at the U.S. Supreme Court - a legal face-off that some say could disrupt the TV business - seems to be going down to the wire.

The Supreme Court released three new opinions on Monday, leaving Aereo for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Monday, legal experts say.

"These are not easy decisions," Neil Begley, the media and entertainment analyst with Moody's Investor Service, said Monday. "There is enormous potential precedent here."

Begley says an Aereo victory at the Supreme Court is unlikely but possible.

ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC (the latter owned by Comcast Corp.) say Aereo is violating copyright law by grabbing - effectively stealing - TV signals out of the air and streaming them over the Internet for a fee to its subscribers without compensating the TV networks.

Many say that if the TV networks lose at the Supreme Court they will seek federal legislation blocking Aereo-like services to preserve billions of dollars in retransmission fees ultimately paid by cable- and satellite-TV subscribers.

Aereo, based in New York's SoHo neighborhood, says its service complies with federal communications laws and could lead to lower prices for TV services. It assigns each subscriber a tiny antenna and streams content to the customer.

The company says it does not steal the signals. Aereo has operations in about a dozen cities, though not Philadelphia.

Supreme Court justices heard the arguments in the Aereo case in April, and the court typically releases opinions by late June or early July.

Richard Doherty, researcher for the Envisioneering Group, a technology research firm on Long Island, said on Monday he believes the case was stirring the justices' interest.

"There is a lot of internal debate," Doherty presumes, "and it will probably not go 9-0 and could go 5-4."

Aereo is led by Chet Kanojia, a native of Bhopal, India, and backed by longtime TV executive Barry Diller. In an interview with The Inquirer in 2013, Kanojia said the big TV networks "are focused on this because it is real. It is credible. There is not anyone in these industries who can say with a straight face that consumers are getting a good deal [with pay-TV services]."

Because millions view over-the-air TV stations, Aereo could package its service and sell it with Netflix or other entertainment streamers as a modern Internet-based TV package.

Among Aereo's supporters is a group of 36 intellectual property and copyright professors who filed a brief in Aereo's support. David G. Post, a Temple University law professor, is the group's counsel of record.


bfernandez@phillynews.com

215-854-5897

@bobfernandez1

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