A long-brewing entertainment industry court battle comes to a head this week as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether or not Aereo, a service that redirects over-the-air broadcast television, qualifies as copyright infringement.
Company CEO Chet Kanojia was at the front of a full court press of media outlets last week, at the same time as media mogul and outspoken Aereo backer Barry Diller went all out in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal.
On the other side, ABC – which is behind the lawsuit – and broadcasters maintain that Aereo is stealing its content and should be paying the same re-transmission fees as cable providers. It’s a position backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which in March cited Aereo for “clearly infringing” broadcaster copyright.
In the battle for public opinion, both sides have been fighting feverishly.
Public vs. Private Performance
Pushing through the various accusations and doomsday predictions of both sides should the other win, in legal terms this case comes down to whether Aereo is a party to public or private performances. If that sounds somewhat unrelated, it’s down to the older language in which copyright law has its roots.
The Supreme Court is challenged to hold Aereo up to the Copyright Act’s definition of a public performance.
Aereo maintains that it provides an aerial for each individual subscriber household, via private signal, making the relationship one-to-one. ABC and its industry peers will argue that Aereo’s extensive array of micro-antennas constitutes a broadcast to the wider public.
The influence of the decision has been likened to that of the pro-Sony Betamax decision in the 1980s, which defined home recording technology for decades to come.
Claims on Copyright
Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, the long running Aereo case reveals the topsy turvy relationship between technology and the entertainment industry.
Almost as often as advancing technology opens up a door to a new business model for creative revenue creation, it also seems to cause uproar by closing another one. Managing the need to effectively distribute and showcase creative works must always be balanced with the rights of the creator to decide when and where their work is used.
If you have questions regarding the use of your intellectual property, be it over the airwaves or any other medium, check in with us to check out your copyright.