Broadcasters: Aereo ‘obvious and unambiguous’ copyright violation

Major TV broadcasters want the Supreme Court to shut down the Internet video service Aereo, which they say is premised on a violation of copyright law.

“Aereo’s unauthorized retransmission of broadcast television to the public is obvious and unambiguous copyright infringement," ABC, NBC, PBS and other major broadcasters said in a brief filed with the high court on Monday. 

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Aereo uses tiny antennas to pick up free, live broadcast television and relay it to users’ tablets, computers and other devices, for a monthly fee.

The broadcasters say that’s a violation of the “transmit” clause in copyright law, which forbids transmission of a performance. They say the company needs to pay for the privilege to show their content, like satellite and company companies do.

“Aereo has built a business out of retransmitting broadcast television to members of the public without seeking authorization from or paying compensation to copyright holders. That is precisely the kind of unauthorized exploitation of copyrighted content that Congress enacted the transmit clause to prevent,” they wrote in the court filing.

Courts have tended to disagree.

Last year, a federal appeals court sided with Aereo, which is backed by billionaire Barry Diller. The court claimed that the service’s transmission did not amount to a “public performance” under copyright law, and so did not violate the stations’ copyrights.

That case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and oral arguments have been set for April 22.

In their brief, the broadcasters warn that a win for Aereo would do serious damage to copyright law.

If the company prevailed, they claimed, “nothing will stop other services that currently pay for the rights to retransmit broadcast television from devising their own Aereo-like workarounds to achieve the same result.”

Aereo was dealt its first major legal loss last week, when a district judge blocked the service in six states.