The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that TV streaming service Aereo is illegal, siding with broadcasters who claimed the company breached copyright law.
Aereo rents out tiny antennas, installed in datacenter equipment, used to capture over-the-air broadcast signals and allow customers to watch TV from any device. The antennas, it argued, made the arrangement little different to everyday home TV receiving and recording.
TV broadcasters, however, claimed that it was exploiting a legal loophole and was effectively a cable company--and 6 of the 9 justices agreed, finding that the service was not merely an equipment provider.
"Rather, Aereo, and not just its subscribers, “perform[s]” (or “transmit[s]”). Aereo’s activities are substantially similar to those of the CATV companies that Congress amended the Act to reach," the majority wrote in their verdict. While acknowledging that streams were user-initiated rather than broadcast, "the dissent’s copy shop argument, in whatever form, makes too much out of too little. Given Aereo’s overwhelming likeness to the cable companies targeted by the 1976 amendments, this sole technological difference between Aereo and traditional cable companies does not make a critical difference here."
Dissenting were conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito: "Unlike [cable] services, Aereo does not provide a prearranged assortment of movies and television shows. Rather, it assigns each subscriber an antenna that — like a library card — can be used to obtain whatever broadcasts are freely available. Some of those broadcasts are copyrighted; others are in the public domain. The key point is that subscribers call all the shots: Aereo’s automated system does not relay any program, copyrighted or not, until a subscriber selects the program and tells Aereo to relay it."
The outcome is expected to have a significant impact on how shows are delivered online. More analysis of the verdict: Techcrunch's Jordan Crook says Aereo was clearly how consumers preferred to watch TV; The Verge's's Jacob Kastrenakes says the company is done for.