Aereo’s $97 million question for the Supreme Court

Chet Kanojia, chief executive of Aereo (AP file photo/2013).
Chet Kanojia, chief executive of Aereo (AP file photo/2013).

If you’re old enough to remember the days when VCRs and Betamax video recorders represented cutting-edge technology, you probably remember the controversy that accompanied them. You could record movies and TV shows off the air, and lend the tapes to your friends. You could fast-forward through commercials. It was a terrible crime, according to the biggest media companies. The head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, testified to Congress that “the VCR is to the American film producer … as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”

The controversy made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided in 1984 that taping “M*A*S*H” for your own personal viewing was not a violation of copyright law.

In 2014, there’s a new technology that will have its day before the nation’s highest court on April 22. And this one, a streaming video service called Aereo, was built in Boston, and backed in part by a Cambridge venture capital firm, Highland Capital Partners. The company has raised $97 million from investors so far, and if the Supreme Court decides that its business violates copyright law, Aereo will basically be out of business.

Read the rest of Scott Kirsner’s Sunday Innovation Economy column in The Boston Globe.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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