“I will say that I’d rather have my case than theirs, and I’d rather have my merits than theirs.”
— Chet Kanojia, CEO of Internet startup Aereo, on the case that the Supreme Court is hearing today, ABC vs. Aereo. The outcome of the closely watched case could set off big changes in the TV and cable industry and beyond.
ABC and other broadcasters say Aereo is violating copyrights by using antennas to capture TV broadcast signals and transmit them over the Internet, allowing customers in nearly a dozen U.S. cities to watch and record shows on their computers or mobile devices. Kanojia tells TechCrunch: “The copyright arguments they make are utterly baseless. Even the cable companies don’t pay for copyright payments — they pay retransmission fees. It has nothing to do with copyright.”
Cable companies pay TV networks retrans fees for the right to broadcast their shows; Aereo pays no retrans fees. Basically, the New York company says it is providing a cloud-based way for customers to watch and record free programming using an antenna, which is their right based on previous court decisions. (Betamax. Cablevision.) But as Troy Wolverton wrote recently, current law is fuzzy: Court decisions involving Aereo and similar services have gone both ways.
Among those with stakes in this Aereo case: TV broadcasters, cable companies, cloud-based services such as Netflix, and other companies that offer ways to watch shows over the Internet, such as TiVo. And of course, TV watchers and potential cord cutters who could cancel their cable subscriptions and put together their own programming lineup by, say, paying for both Netflix and Aereo.
If Aereo wins, TV broadcasters have threatened to take their free programming off the air and make them part of a cable offering instead. Kanojia told TechCrunch: “That’s hyperbole… They’d also have to face Congress and say that they believe the Americans that aren’t willing to be a part of the cable monopoly bundle don’t deserve access to public television. That argument would fall flat on its face.”
An interesting question if Aereo wins: What’s to keep others from adopting the startup’s idea and offering local broadcasts as part of their services?
Photo: Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of Aereo, shows a tablet displaying his company’s technology in New York in 2012. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)