This week, The U.S. Supreme Court began the oral argument stage for ABC Inc. v. Aereo, No. 13-461, a case with colossal ramifications on copyright law. ABC is joined by CBS, Disney, Fox, Comcast’s NBC Universal, and the federal government. The Aereo Company, based in Long Island, NY is an internet alternative to watching television. Aereo charges its subscribers a monthly fee to watch television stations over the internet, without the company having a license to do so, or paying retransmission fees to local affiliates.
The case turns on a part of the copyright law that requires copyright owners’ permission for “public performances” of their work. The law defines such performances to include retransmission to the public.” Aereo argues that since they have an individual antenna streaming to each individual subscriber over the internet, it is accordingly not classified as a public performance under U.S. Copyright Law.
According to Deadline, Chief Justice John Roberts proclaimed during oral argument that “[y]our technological model is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don’t want to comply with…There’s no reason for you to have 10,000 dime-sized antennas except to get around the Copyright Act.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out at Aereo “[Is] the only player so far that pays no royalties whatsoever.”
The oral arguments were reportedly watched in person today by Fox co-COO, James Murdoch as well as Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia. The high stakes of this case is clear. If the court rules for Aereo, it could be a deathblow for the television broadcasting model that has been fighting the internet for years. If the court rules for the broadcasting companies, the Aereo business model will be finished. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in June.