Aereo Case Poses Thorny Problem for High Court

Image AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File The Supreme Court will decide a case that may transform how cloud computing and the hardware used to store and transmit digital images to end users will be regulated. The case, ABC Inc. v. Aereo, involves the antenna company, Aereo, that allows users to view and store broadcast TV programs online for about $8 to $12 a month.

That may sound no different from someone who watches TV now with an antenna for free, which is what Aereo’s lawyers are saying. ABC’s lawyers, on behalf of network broadcasters, are saying that Aereo is violating U.S. Copyright law that says public performances (network broadcasts) are protected by copyright unless license (or tre-transmission) fees are paid, which is what cable companies pay to networks and then charge cable subscribers.  Aereo elminates the need for cable (or big TV antennas) for network broadcasts.

The networks see Aereo as handwriting on the wall if Aereo wins because cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner would see their subscribers flee and lead to more “cord cutting,” i.e., users ending their cable subscriptions and opting for Aereo and other Internet services such as Hulu or Netflix for a fraction of the cost in managing their TV watching needs. The court sees it as having even larger repercussions for cloud services that store and perhaps aggregate content if they are seen as copyright infringers.

One question for the justices is whether Aereo is providing a service or providing access to equipment. Why? Because in one example, both Google and Apple have music storage lockers.  Would they be covered under the copyright law?

On  the on hand, the Court seems to view the Aereo business model as illegal but on the other worries that a decision against the antenna company would limit other innovations “that will really change life,” such as cloud computing is doing, said Justice Breyer in oral argument.

Here’s the story in full:

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