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Supreme Court rules startup Aereo violated broadcasting copyrights

Photo: Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Chet Kanojia, the founder and CEO of Aereo, lost his Supreme Court battle with broadcasters.

The United States Supreme Court ruled against Internet startup Aereo on Wednesday, saying it is a cable company that violated copyrights of broadcasters and must pay those broadcasters when it takes material that allows its subscribers to watch television for free. 

The court ruled 6-3 in a decision written by Justice Stephen Breyer. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. 

Aereo allowed its customers to watch broadcast television over the internet and record its content to numerous electronic devices without paying for cable. 

The ruling allows for television networks to collect big fees from cable and satellite systems that transmit their programming. It could impact consumers who use Aereo to watch live sporting events. Aereo costs $8 per month and is available in New York, Boston, Houston, Atlanta and seven other metropolitan areas in the United States.

The 2nd Circuit Court had ruled that Aereo's plan to broadcast television over the internet was permitted. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying the company was subject to the Copyright Act. 

In part, the Supreme Court's decision said: 

In sum, having considered the details of Aereo’s practices, we find them highly similar to those of the CATV systems in Fortnightly and Teleprompter. And those are activities that the 1976 amendments sought to bring within the scope of the Copyright Act.

Insofar as there are differences, those differences concern not the nature of the service that Aereo provides so much as the technological manner in which it provides the service.

We conclude that those differences are not adequate to place Aereo’s activities outside the scope of the Act. The court finds that Aereo is a cable company not, as the startup claimed, an equipment provider.

~Scooby Axson

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