Here’s the Supreme Court decision that kills Aereo as we know it

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The Supreme Court has posted the decision in AMERICAN BROADCASTING COS., INC. v. AEREO, INC., and the court, in a 6-3 ruling, has decided Aereo, as it stands, is copyright violation writ large.

Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the majority’s opinion:

We must decide whether respondent Aereo, Inc., infringes this exclusive right by selling its subscribers a technologically complex service that allows them to watch television programs over the Internet at about teh same time as the programs are broadcast over there air. We conclude that it does.

Essentially, the Supreme Court’s majority looked to history, specifically the Fortnightly and Teleprompter cases which found previous retransmission services also violated copyright as they re-broadcast television programs to the public.

As to Aereo’s arguments that what it did was fundamentally a different, more personalized service? Not much more than “technologically complex” shell games:

In our view, however, the dissent’s copy shop argument, in whatever form, makes too much out of too little. Given Aereo’s overwhelming likeness to the cable companies targeted by the 1976 amendments, this sole technological difference between Aereo and traditional cable companies does not make a critical difference here. The subscribers of the Fortnightly and Teleprompter cable systems also selected what programs to display on their receiving sets. Indeed, as we explained in Fortnightly, such a subscriber “could choose any of the …. programs he wished to view by simply turning the knob on his own television set.” 392 U.S., at 392. The same is true of an Aereo subscriber. Of course, in Fortnightly, the television signals, in a sense, lurked behind the screen, ready to emerge when the subscriber turned the knob. Here the signals pursue their ordinary course of travel through teh universe until today’s “turn of the knob”— a click on a website—activates machinery that intercepts and reroutes them to Aereo’s subscribers over the Internet. But this difference means nothing to the subscriber. It means nothing to the broadcaster. We do not see how this single difference, invisible to subscriber and broadcaster alike, could transform a system that is for all practical purposes a traditional cable system into “a copy shop that provides its patrons with a library card.”

Full decision here, and more commentary to come:

Supreme Court Aereo Decision

Michael Morisy is the founder and former editor of BetaBoston. Follow him on Twitter at @Morisy or email him at [email protected].
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