No clear leaning in opening arguments of Aereo case

Justices reserved skepticism for both sides in copyright battle

Despite optimism from stakeholders that the U.S. Supreme Court case American Broadcasting Companies Inc., et al, v. Aereo Inc., could potentially change the way that Americans watch TV, in its initial day in court, Justices were lukewarm to arguments in favor of Aereo’s business model.

Perhaps most telling of that skepticism was a comment from Chief Justice John Roberts who said to Aereo lawyers, "your technological model is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don't want to comply with."

Aereo operates by pulling broadcast signals off of public airwaves to a network of antennas it own in various markets and transmitting them to users via an Internet connection. While typically this type of streaming service would require licensing fees paid to broadcasters, Aereo argues that its business model is no different than a TV top antenna becuase they're making use of publicly broadcasted signals and therefore should not be subject to fees.

ABC asserts that regardless of whether the signal is on publicly available airwaves or not, it owns the content and maintains the copyrights.

Should the court rule in favor of Aereo, it could mean billions of lost retransmission fees currently paid to broadcasters by cable providers.  The technology has broadcasters so upset that CBS Corp has even threatened to cut its free-to-air services and offer an alternative low cost option is Aereo wins.

But skepticism from the Court was not reserved for Aereo, several Justices raisied concerns about the implications of ruling in favor or ABC.

In Court, Aereo argued that its business model was no different from the concept of cloud computing, which uses remote Internet services to feed content to users, including information that may be copyrighted. Reuters reported that Justices appeared concerned about the legal ramifications the ruling could have on the increasingly popular cloud movement.

Justice Stephen Breyer told ABC lawyers that the cloud computing argument used by Aereo, "makes me nervous about taking your preferred route."

When probed on concerns about how a decision could alter the face of cloud services, ABC lawyers reportedly suggested a narrow ruling specific to Aereo, to which Justice Samuel Alito responded, "I don't find that very satisfying,"

For more on this and other copyright cases, check out these articles:

ABC vs. Aereo to be argued April 22 at U.S. Supreme Court

Record labels open a Pandora’s Box of copyright suits

Google tries to trademark the word 'Glass'

Managing Editor

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Chris DiMarco

Chris DiMarco, Managing Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, has a background in multimedia production with previous involvement in projects in which he developed and created content for...

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