High court to hear TV copyright case

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging operations of the tech company Aereo, which sells devices allowing consumers to stream live local TV broadcasts on their devices.

Broadcast companies have opposed the technology, which they say violates copyright law. Aereo picks up broadcast waves, which it has asserted are free for anyone with an antenna, and transmits them to subscribers’ tablets, computers or smartphones.

On Friday, the high court agreed to hear the case in its current term.

Aereo chief executive and founder Chet Kanojia said that the case could lay the legal groundwork for future services using cloud technology.

“This case is critically important not only to Aereo, but to the entire cloud computing and cloud storage industry,” he said in a statement on Friday.

“We believe that consumers have a right to use an antenna to access over-the-air television and to make personal recordings of those broadcasts,” he added. “If the broadcasters succeed, the consequences to consumers and the cloud industry are chilling.”

FOX, Univision and other plaintiffs said that the case “has never been about stifling new video distribution technologies, but has always been about stopping a copyright violator who redistributes television programming without permission or compensation.”

Aereo, which counts media mogul Barry Diller among its backers, asked for the court to take up the case to settle the dispute, even though an appeals court came down on its side last year.

The company is citing a Second Court of Appeals decision allowing Cablevision to offer a remote DVR as grounds for its legal standing. That case “provided much needed clarity for the cloud industry and as a result, helped foster massive investment, growth and innovation in the sector,” Kanojia said.

Cablevision, however, is distancing itself from Aereo.  

On Friday, the company said it “remains confident” that Aereo’s service “violates copyright” but nonetheless hoped that the high court would not challenge the legality of all cloud-based services.

- This story was updated with additional information at 5:28 p.m.