Aereo ruling boosts calls for radio reform

Members of the music industry is hoping a new Supreme Court ruling on television streaming will bolster the music industry's fight against AM/FM radio stations.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that online television startup Aereo — which allowed users to stream and record broadcast content that is free over-the-air with an antenna — violated copyright law and is illegal.

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The case was a victory for broadcasters, who protested Aereo’s service for depriving broadcasters of compensation for their programming.

But some say the decision could also have a negative impact on broadcasters, who — while arguing that Aereo should pay broadcasters for content — defend AM/FM radio stations’ ability to play songs over-the-air without compensating musicians.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property — is working on a bill to, among other things, require radio stations to pay musicians for the songs they play, and he said the Aereo ruling may help his cause.

The decision “highlights that the court … and broadcasters support copyright protection,” Nadler told The Hill.

Requiring Aereo to pay to play broadcast content and requiring radio stations to pay to play songs is “the same principle,” he continued.

“It sort of a contradictory position for them to hold.”

MusicFIRST — a coalition of music industry groups representing musicians, record labels and others — also used the Aereo ruling to call for music licensing reforms.

Broadcasters “commit the exact sin that they condemn in Aereo — they use music as the foundation of their programming, yet refuse to pay the artists and labels who created the music a cent,” musicFIRST executive director Ted Kalo said in a statement.

“As momentum builds in Congress to close the AM/FM performance loophole once and for all, [the National Association of Broadcasters] and its members may find their win over Aereo read back to them as Exhibit A in the case for fair pay for all creators across the board.”

But broadcasters say the issues shouldn’t be conflated.

“The huge distinction here is that Aereo takes ‘free TV’ content and re-sells it for a profit, without permission,” Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), said.

“Radio stations do not resell music — working with record labels, we make this music available for free to 245 million listeners every week.”

Earlier on Wednesday, NAB testified at a hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and released a study, defending radio stations’ ability to play music without paying musicians.