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Aereo Gains Backing Against Broadcasters

9 Apr, 2014 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – Aereo is slowly building a small army of supporters as it awaits a Supreme Court decision on whether or not it will be allowed to continue to stream over-the-air TV content.

Digital rights advocates, the American Cable Association (ACA), DISH Network and even a group of law professors are backing the company and asking the court to side with Aereo in its battle against television broadcasters.

They say in briefs filed last week that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals correctly rejected broadcasters' request to shut down Aereo, which lets paying subscribers stream TV programming to phones, tablets and other devices. Users can also record shows for later viewing.

TV broadcasters are suing Aereo saying it infringes copyright by “publicly” performing shows without a license. But Aereo says its streams are “private” performances, due to the company's architecture, which relies on thousands of tiny antennas to capture over-the-air transmissions and stream them on an antenna-to-subscriber basis.

The ACA says Aereo's technology merely provides another way for consumers to get and record over-the-air TV – as they are legally entitled to do. Yet Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation say Aereo’s antenna system is a “sham,” designed solely to take advantage of a loophole in copyright law.

“The supposed inefficiency of Aereo’s multiple-antenna system as compared to cable systems has no bearing on whether Aereo’s technology enables private or public performances,” the digital rights groups write.

Pro-Aereo law professors say the company’s system is the “functional equivalent” of the Sony Betamax – which was allowed by the Supreme Court decades ago. “Consumers use [Aereo] to record television programs for subsequent playback to themselves. In copyright terms, these are reproductions subject to the Copyright Act, many of which are likely protected as fair uses,” a group of 36 law professors argue.

Last month, the White House weighed in against Aereo, arguing that the company infringes copyright by retransmitting programs without licenses. The Supreme Court will hear arguments about Aereo's legality on April 22 and could issue a decision by June.

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