On June 25, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Aereo, Inc. infringes the copyrights of television producers, broadcasters, marketers, and distributors by streaming delayed television content to its subscribers. Specifically, the Court held that Aereo “performed” the copyrighted works within the meaning of the Transmit Clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The Transmit Clause gives copyright holders the exclusive right to transmit or otherwise perform a copyrighted work to the public by means of a device or process. Aereo had hoped to distinguish its service by arguing the streaming content was delayed several seconds from the live over-the-air broadcasts and arguing it was simply an equipment provider due to its individually-assigned antennas sending subscriber-specific content to one subscriber at a time. However, the Justices equated Aereo to a community antenna television provider (CATV) or cable television service that contemporaneously communicates perceptible images and sounds to a large number of people. Congress amended the Copyright Act in 1976 to specially bring CATV companies within the scope of copyright protection. Obviously, this is a victory for television copyright holders and possibly an indication of how the Court would rule on challenges to internet-based cab and hotel providers who by-pass current licenses and taxes associated with hired cars and traditional hotel rooms.
By Greg Marcum