ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and Univision aren’t often on the same side. But they’re in league against a company called Aereo, a Barry Diller-backed tech company that may or may not be stealing their shows. It’s a big enough deal for the Supreme Court to decide–and the Court is trying to be especially careful with its Aereo decision. A wrong move, some justices fear, could hamper the growth of the cloud computing space just as it’s booming. They don’t want to make a decision that in the process of stamping out Aereo–if it’s found to be in violations–also rains on the cloud at large.
Aereo is a clever company, built to challenge the copyright law. If you want network TV on your device, you just have to rent a little “dime-sized” antennae from Aereo, and it’ll capture the signal and stream it to you. Cool right? The term the Court has to consider is whether this constitutes a “public performance” of the show, for which the networks must be compensated. “Re-transmission” fees for “publicly performed” shows put the “net” in networks, bringing in some $3 billion a year. Aereo doesn’t pay the networks anything, operating as an antennae farm and storage facility–with individual antennas linked to each customer so that it can claim it’s just a service featuring the kind of antennas people can buy for themselves at Radio Shack. (Aereo just happens to send–not to say “re-transmit”–the show along from there.) The multiple antennas, instead of a few large ones, can be seen as simply a way to get around copyright law. Justice Roberts said the Aereo business model was “based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions.” But there’s actually nothing illegal about that. Can people capture something that’s free, keep it on a drive somewhere, and then watch it when they want? Yes. But can companies capture, keep and deliver upon request? The Court will decide.