Networks Tell Supreme Court Aereo Steals Their Content

Broadcasters say the TV streaming company is violating copyright laws. The ruling will influence the future of television, and also affect technologies such as cloud computing.

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NPR's business news starts in the cloud.


INSKEEP: Our tech reporting team has its head in the cloud this week. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case concerning over-the-air television being stored in the cloud. A start-up company called Aereo lets customers access broadcast TV shows through computers, smartphones and tablets. Protesters say they're stealing content.

Here's NPR's Steve Henn.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: This may sound kind of crazy, but in some ways the question before the Supreme Court yesterday was this: Is Aereo more like a cable company, or is it more like my grandfather?

My granddad was born in Oklahoma around the turn of the last century. He grew up in the West and as he got older, he loved watching Westerns.


JOHN WAYNE: (As Jacob McCandles) If you follow him, I'll hunt ya down and kill ya, every mother's son of ya.

HENN: And he'd record them, right off the TV.

UNCLE ARTHUR: He would sit there with the remote.

HENN: That's my Uncle Arthur.

UNCLE ARTHUR: He'd be ready when the time came and he keep shutting it on and off and we'd see little bits of commercials.

HENN: Over the years, he created a collection of four or 500 movies. And this was all legal because he was recording them for himself and playing them at home. Aereo says they're really helping people doing exactly what my granddad did - but instead of VHS tapes stored in a closet - Aereo rents folks a high-tech antenna and stores their shows in the cloud.

DAVID FREDERICK: We're confident if the court understood that when a person watching over the air broadcast television in his or her home, is engaging in a private performance and not a public performance that would implicated the copyright act.

HENN: That's David Frederick, Aereo's lawyer after the Supreme Court argument yesterday. But Paul Clement, who represented broadcasters, argued that Aereo really is acting a lot more like a cable company than like my grandfather.

FREDERICK: A service cannot provide live TV over the Internet to thousands of strangers without engaging in a public performance. It really is as simple as that.

HENN: And by law, when a cable companies sell you a TV package, they have to pay broadcasters for the public performance rights to rebroadcast those over-the-air shows. Broadcasters earn billions each year selling these rights. And that's what at stake in this case.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

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