Having long been established as the sharpest thorn in the side to TV networks when it comes to internet streaming their own live content, Aereo are set to take on the ‘big 4′ of American TV networks (amongst others) as they go to court tomorrow in a case which some are claiming could trigger a chain reaction for the industry as a whole whichever direction it is taken.
Having progressed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington DC (USA), the case being heard as a ‘one-hour oral argument’ on Tuesday (22 April) will be one to determine whether or not Aereo (supported by Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp) have been legally operating since their foundation in 2012, having been accused of illegally streaming network content to subscribers without paying commission or gaining permission otherwise from the channels being aired.
The nine justices present in the court tomorrow are set to do so in the spirit of their predecessors 30 years ago, who only slightly voted in favour (5-4) of the newest viewing technology of its time, the Betamax video recorder from Sony, a case later dubbed “The Magna Carta” for the technology industry. In January 1984, major networks lost their appeal to claim that the VCR machine constituted ‘contributory copyright infringement’, through the heinous act of users recording content from their TV sets for later viewing.
Of course, the three decades that have passed since that verdict resulted in the art of digital recording becoming mainstream and then normalised within the TV audiences, a development which Aereo will hope can work in their favour and inspire the courts to give them the platform for similar success, a potential challenge to the $3b industry of ‘retransmission fees’ that networks currently receive in the USA from satellite and cable TV providers.
But with claims from ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox (including parent companies Disney, Comcast, NBCUniversal, and 21st Century Fox) that the Aereo service is infringing on their copyrighted content, it will be a difficult task for the defendants given the legal backing these networks will bring, and if failed, could provoke a knock-on effect that hits the likes of Google and Microsoft with their cloud storage technology.
For Aereo’s developments specifically, though, the networks are firmly opposed to something just ‘created to skirt copyright law’, unlike the now-accepted Betamax outcome (described as ‘genuinely innovative’), although that case is not mentioned in the legal brief from the prosecution (compared with Aereo’s 12 mentions). Network representative lawyer Neal Katyal summarised: “There’s nothing innovative about the [Aereo] technology.”
However the case turns out, it appears as though all concerned will have business as normal for two months at least, with a final decision believed to have a deadline of the end of June. Will it be Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia emerging victorious at that point, or will the legal team for the major networks snuff out any chance their thumbnail-antenna streaming rivals have of making a Betamax-shaped mark on the market?
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