The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a battle between TV broadcasters and Aereo, a startup that streams television over the Internet, as the final step in a case that could have broad implications for the future of online TV services.
The TV networks and broadcasters asked the Supreme Court to take the case after a federal court in New York ruled last year that Aereo's service wasn't breaking copyright law.
Aereo allows subscribers access to over-the-air TV signals via the Internet. It installs arrays of tiny, coin-sized antennas in major cities and offers its service to viewers who live within the already established transmission area.
Broadcasters say it infringes on their copyright because it's redistributing their programming without permission, but Aereo disagrees.
Unlike cable television, which uses a single receiver per TV station and redistributes the signal to subscribers, Aereo gives each subscriber their own receiver and antenna. In that way, argues Aereo, there is no redistribution: only reception via a private antenna and tuner as already happens in people's homes. The only difference is that the receiver and antenna are in a distant location connected via the Internet.
Writing on his company's blog, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said he welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court and positioned the case as something that would be important "to the entire cloud computing and cloud storage industry."
"We believe that consumers have a right to use an antenna to access over-the-air television and to make personal recordings of those broadcasts. The broadcasters are asking the Court to deny consumers the ability to use the cloud to access a more modern-day television antenna and DVR. If the broadcasters succeed, the consequences to consumers and the cloud industry are chilling," he wrote.
At present, Aereo is available in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Baltimore. It has plans to expand its US$8-per-month service to additional cities in 2014. The video recording service is available for an additional $4 per month.
The case is being fought as television in the U.S. is increasingly moving online. At present, that move is taking place largely through on-demand services such as Hulu, Netflix and websites and apps run by the broadcasters themselves.
No major U.S. broadcast TV networks stream their programming online, as is common in many other countries.
The case is ABC et al vs. Aereo, 13-461, at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org