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Supreme Court Deals A Big Win For TV Broadcasters


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. It was a bad day for a certain tech startup. The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a heavy blow to a service that lets consumers stream and record broadcast TV from their phones, computers or tablets. The High Court said it violates the programming copyrights of broadcasters. NPR's Laura Sydell has the story.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The company is called Aereo. It has warehouses filled with tiny antennas, one for each of its customers. The tiny antennas pick up an over-the-air broadcast TV signal and send it back out over the Internet so that customers can watch on any Internet connected device. It also records the shows. So the consumers can watch whenever they want. NYU Law Professor Jeanne Fromer says, Aereo thought this was legal because it was supplying a remote DVR.

JEANNE FROMER: If you make a separate copies for each user, even of the same exact broadcast - you know, you could have thousands of users watching the same show - but each one gets its his own copy than that would be fine.

SYDELL: But the Supreme Court saw it differently. Instead of seeing Aereo as a company that supplied remote DVRs, it saw the company more like cable TV, which must pay a licensing fee to broadcasters, like ABC and CBS, to rebroadcast their programming over the cable line.

FROMER: There was some flavor of - you look like a cable TV provider. You act like a cable TV provider. You walk like a cable TV provider. We're going to call what you're doing a public performance of the copyrighted work. Something you can't do.

SYDELL: Well you can do it as long as you pay the broadcaster for the right. In a statement after the decision, Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia said, the company would continue to fight. He said quote "our work is not done." But James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, thinks Aereo is done.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: Aereo will have to shut down.

SYDELL: McQuivey says Aereo's only real course of action is to try and do what cable companies have done, which is to negotiate licensing fees. But McQuivey says the broadcasters probably are not feeling warm and fuzzy towards Aereo right now.

MCQUIVEY: First of all, like the won. And they're going to be smug about it. But second of all, they don't agree with what Aereo was trying to do. And they don't want to help Aereo succeed.

SYDELL: But the decision raise concerns about companies that are in the business of cloud storage - companies like Amazon, Apple and others that let consumers store movies and TV they purchased on the Internet - NYU Professor Fromer.

FROMER: The worry is now that the cloud provider. Now it could be on the hook every time I try to get that file.

SYDELL: The six-member majority opinion said that the court was not ruling on cloud computing. But the language of the decision could be used, and likely will be, to extract more money from cloud computing companies by content owners. Paul Goldstein is a professor at Stanford Law School.

PAUL GOLDSTEIN: What they're doing, as opposed to what they're saying, is laying down, for the longer-term, a pretty clear rule that will impose liability on usage well beyond cable.

SYDELL: But Aereo was in 11 cities. And it's clear that it was meeting a desire many consumers have to unplug from the cable companies, so that they can get their TV on any Internet connected device. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.