U.S. Supreme Court justices questioned the legality of Aereo Inc., the Barry Diller-backed startup aiming to upend the broadcast industry’s decades-old business model by selling live television programming over the Internet.
Hearing arguments Tuesday in Washington, some justices suggested they viewed Aereo as violating broadcaster copyrights by using thousands of dime-sized antennas to get over-the-air signals without paying fees. Chief Justice John Roberts led the questioning, asking whether Aereo’s equipment had any purpose “other than to get around the copyright laws.”
At the same time, the hour-long hearing didn’t clearly indicate the likely outcome, as justices led by Stephen Breyer repeatedly asked whether a ruling favoring the broadcasters would imperil the cloud computing industry.
Aereo would give consumers a new way to watch broadcast television without buying the packages offered by cable and satellite companies.
Broadcasters including CBS Corp. and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC say a legal victory for Aereo would devastate the industry, creating a blueprint that would let cable and satellite providers stop paying billions of dollars in retransmission fees each year to carry local programming. Aereo’s Internet service lets customers in 11 cities watch live and recorded broadcast programs for as little as $8 a month.
The threat posed by Aereo was magnified last year when a federal appeals court said the company wasn’t infringing the broadcasters’ copyrights. ABC, CBS, Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox Inc., Tribune Co. and the Public Broadcasting Service are asking the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling.
The court will rule by the end of its term this summer.