US & Canada

US high court rules Aereo 'violates copyright law'

Aereo Image copyright AP

The US Supreme Court has ruled against Aereo in a landmark case that pit the start-up TV company against some of the biggest US broadcasters.

Aereo uses thousands of tiny antennas to pick-up TV signals and transmit them to subscribers who pay as little as $8 (£5) a month for the service.

Major US broadcasters, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, had sued over the firm's business model.

But the court ruled that Aereo must pay broadcasters when it streams TV.

The US Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday by a 6-3 vote that Aereo Inc is violating broadcasters' copyrights by taking the signals for free.

It means television networks can still collect huge fees from satellite and cable systems for their programmes.

Aereo offered its service for subscribers to watch on smartphones and other portable devices.

It is available in New York, Boston, Atlanta and some other major US cities.

The firm argued each antenna is only used by one subscriber at a time which meant it was similar to a viewer using an antenna at home to watch freely available over-the-air broadcasts.

In an opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court ruled Aereo's service was not distinct from what cable and satellite companies offered.

"Aereo is not simply an equipment provider... Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, almost as they are being broadcast," he wrote.

Justice Breyer noted that the decision did not intend to call other technologies, including cloud computing, into question.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Aereo chief executive Chet Kanojia (seen here in April) called the ruling a "massive setback" for consumers

In the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote while he felt what Aereo does "ought not to be allowed", he worried the decision was distorting federal copyright law to come to that conclusion, saying the decision was based on the "shakiest of foundations".

In a statement, Aereo chief executive Chet Kanojia called the ruling a "massive setback for the American consumer".

"Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country's fabric," saying it was "meaningful" for more than 60 million Americans.

"Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle."

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