In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States held a company “publicly performs” a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet. The Aereo decision is a victory for broadcasters who claimed the streaming services' technology amounted to copyright infringement.
Here's how the Aereo service works:
For a monthly fee, Aereo offers subscribers broadcast television programming over the Internet, virtually as the programming is being broadcast. Much of this programming is made up of copyrighted works. Aereo neither owns the copyright in those works nor holds a license from the copyright owners to perform those works publicly.
Each subscriber has their own personal antenna for receiving the streamed television programs. Its system does not transmit data saved in one subscriber’s folder to any other subscriber. When two subscribers wish to watch the same program, Aereo’s system activates two separate antennas and saves two separate copies of the program in two separate folders. It then streams the show to the subscribers through two separate transmissions—each from the subscriber’s personal copy.
The Supreme Court's majority opinion went on to discuss that Aereo's technology allows subscribers to watch television almost simultaneously with the original broadcast, and many of those programs are protected by copyright. Because Aereo does not have a license to retransmit the programs, this action by Aereo amounts to an infringement of the exclusive right of public performance.
Listen to a Special Episode of the Entertainment Law Update podcast with California copyright lawyer Gordon Firemark and Texas copyright attorney Tamera Bennett discussing the Aereo decision.