The major television networks petitioned the Supreme Court Friday to shut down Internet video service Aereo, claiming it is stealing their copyrighted content.
NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, Univision and other broadcasters argued that a "nonsensical" ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to allow Aereo to continue operating threatens the existence of their industry.
"The issue here is simply too consequential to allow the Second Circuit to operate with a different set of copyright rules from those envisioned by Congress and operative in the rest of the Nation," the companies wrote. "This Court’s review is needed now."
Aereo, which is backed by media mogul Barry Diller, allows customers to record and watch TV channels on their mobile devices and computers for a monthly fee. The company uses farms of tiny antennas to pick up free over-the-air broadcast television signals and then transmits the video to its customers over the Internet.
Aereo claims that it is just making it easier for customers to exercise their right to access free over-the-air television.
But the broadcasters argue that Aereo must pay for permission to re-transmit their signals, just like cable and satellite providers already do.
"This Court should... eliminate the massive loophole the Second Circuit has created in Congress’ carefully crafted copyright regime," the TV companies wrote.
They warned that if the lower court decision stands, it would encourage cable providers and other Internet companies to use similar techniques to avoid paying copyright holders.
“We will respond, as appropriate, in due course," Virginia Lam, spokeswoman for Aereo, said.
The key legal question is whether Aereo's service qualifies as a "public performance" under copyright law. In July, the Second Circuit sided with Aereo, but the Ninth Circuit granted the broadcasters' request to shut down a similar video service called FilmOn X in August.
Although the Supreme Court declines to consider most of the petitions it receives, it is more likely to intervene in a case if there is a split between the circuits on an important legal question.
The broadcasters are represented by lawyers including former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who argued against the president's healthcare law before the Supreme Court last year.