Supreme Court Looks Befuddled on Aereo Case
Stephen Breyer referenced phonograph records
By Kevin Spak, Newser User
Posted Apr 23, 2014 8:59 AM CDT
Videojournalists set up outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 22, 2104.   (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

(Newser) – The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in ABC v. Aereo, a much-watched case that could have big implications for both cloud computing and broadcast television—implications the justices didn't seem comfortable with. Aereo allows users to record broadcast TV online and watch it at their leisure. The major broadcast networks are suing it for copyright violation, and stand to lose billions in fees cable companies pay to carry their programming. Aereo says it's simply renting users the equipment to do online what they can legally do at home. Here's how the arguments went:

  • "If you're comfortable with the Supreme Court resolving disputes over technology, the transcript of Tuesday's oral arguments … should change your mind," writes Jon Healey at the LA Times. Stephen Breyer at one point made an analogy to "what used to be called a phonograph record store." He also worried that Aereo's antennas could "pick up every television signal in the world," which isn't true, Healey pointed out, "because the world isn't, you know, flat."
  • The justices seemed skeptical of Aereo's business model. "It's not logical to me that you can make these millions of copies and essentially sell them to the public," Sonia Sotomayor said. John Roberts said the company was only using thousands of small antennas, instead of a few big ones "to get around copyright laws," the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • But the justices also seemed genuinely worried that their decision could stifle innovation. Sotomayor asked what effect this would have on "the Dropbox and the iCloud." When the broadcasters' lawyers told them to "just be confident" that Aereo's service was different, Samuel Alito said, "I don't find that very satisfying. … I need to understand what effect it will have on these other technologies."
  • Aereo's best hope is that the justices adhere to a lower court's Cartoon Network vs. Cablevision ruling, which held that customers could make DVR recordings on Cablevision's hard drives, writes Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog. At one point, Anthony Kennedy suggested lawyers pretend that decision had come from the high court.
  • Ultimately, the justices didn't seem to like their options. "This is really hard for me," Sotomayor confessed. "I don't see how to get out of it," Breyer agreed.

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Ezekiel 25:17
Apr 24, 2014 11:54 AM CDT
Broadcasters are not that worried about their programs and spots being retransmitted. I mean it gets the commercials into more eyes than if Aereo had not existed. What bothers the networks and broadcasters the most is the lack of ability to monetize it for themselves. They can't insert targeted spots and make money from it. They run specialized systems that insert targeted ads in the online experience. Aereo came along and busted the model and that scares them. Its why Leslie on-the Moonves said he will get revenge by going off the air as a cable network. I will laugh at that as he sees his revenues tumble as he shuts off millions of customers. Maybe all of the tv stations he abandons can then become a great movie broadcaster such as UPN was.
Apr 24, 2014 1:59 AM CDT
The Supreme Court should rent some teenagers to explain it to them.
Apr 23, 2014 2:09 PM CDT
The "supreme" court stopped being supreme just moments after 1) Clarence woke up & 2) Scalia stopped ranting his tired old silly rants.