Aereo—the service that streams over-the-air local television to any Mac, iOS device, or PC running Safari for a monthly subscription—just landed a huge victory against television networks, as the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rebuffed an appeal today and ruled Aereo does not infringe broadcaster’s copyrights.
Aereo transmits television over the Internet, but local broadcasters claimed it does not have the legal license to operate. The Court of Appeals, however, agreed that Aereo’s system—14 of its antennas to be specific—operate independently and a license is irrelevant because subscribers stream their own copies of programs.
An excerpt from the ruling (PDF):
Each user-associated copy of a program created by Aereo’s system is generated from a unique antenna assigned only to the user who requested that the copy be made. The feed from that antenna is not used to generate multiple copies of each program for different Aereo users but rather only one copy: the copy that can be watched by the user to whom that antenna is assigned. Thus even if we were to disregard Aereo’s copies, it would still be true that the potential audience of each of Aereo’s transmissions was the single user to whom each antenna was assigned. It is beyond dispute that the transmission of a broadcast TV program received by an individual’s rooftop antenna to the TV in his living room is private, because only that individual can receive the transmission from that antenna, ensuring that the potential audience of that transmission is only one person. Plaintiffs have presented no reason why the result should be any different when that rooftop antenna is rented from Aereo and its signals transmitted over the internet: it remains the case that only one person can receive that antenna’s transmissions.
Aereo launched in New York City last March and has since landed in dozens of cities, but it has consistently battled opposition from television networks, like Fox, CBS, and NBC, as they attempted to halt its expansion during the last year. Due to today’s ruling, though, as first noted by The Verge, television networks would now need to win an appeal through either the Second Circuit or Supreme Court in order to block Aereo.