Aereo, the startup that aims to help New York City residents stream live broadcast television online, is being sued by Fox, Univision, Tribune Company and PBS.
The broadcasters allege that Aereo's service violates copyright laws under the United States Copyright Act and unfair competition statutes under the common law of the State of New York.
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As we discussed in our review of Aereo, the startup hoped to mitigate some of its legal hurdles when it designed the service. Rather than serving signals from one transmitter, Aereo works by deploying thousands of tiny antennas to deliver over-the-air (OTA) HD signal over the Internet.
The idea is that by offering a one-to-one deployment, Aereo isn't violating any public performance laws.
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In the complaint, embedded below, the broadcasters think differently. They write:
Copyright law, however, does not permit Aereo to appropriate to itself the value of Plaintiffs' television programming by retransmitting it over the Internet without proper licenses. It simply does not matter whether Aereo uses one big antenna to receive Plaintiffs' broadcasts and retransmit them to subscribers, or "tons" of "tiny" antennas, as Aereo claims it does. No amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo - or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated "rabbit ears" - changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit Plaintiffs' broadcasts may do so only with Plaintiffs' authority. Simply put, Aereo is an unauthorized Internet delivery service that is receiving, converting and retransmitting broadcast signals to its subscribers for a fee.
The plaintiffs, who seek injunctive relief and damages, include:
- WNET -- Non-profit educational corporation that is responsible for public stations WNET and WLIW in New York.
- THIRTEEN -- Wholly-owned subsidiary of WNET and a major producer of PBS content. It's the PBS affiliate in New York City.
- Fox Television Stations -- Fox affiliates WNYW and WWOR
- Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- WPIX -- The CW affiliate in New York City
- Univision Television Group -- Owns WTV in New York City.
- Univision Network Limited Partnership
We've reached out to Aereo, but the company is not commenting on the lawsuit.
Fortunately for Aereo, the startup has some backup. IAC is the lead investor of its $20.5 million series A. Its CEO Barry Diller introduced Aereo at a media event in New York City in February. Diller seemed unconcerned about the expected legal challenges. Aereo's CEO Chet Kanojia joked that the funding the company raised would go towards "infrastructure and lawyers."
Ironically, Diller is co-founder of Fox Broadcasting Company, which includes its flagship WNYW station.
At Aereo's media event in February, Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu remarked that the company seemed ripe as a final exam question in a course on copyright law. Much of the law regarding Aereo's claims are murky or untested, especially in the context of online distribution.
We'll continue to follow this story as it develops. Do you think the broadcasters have a point? Let us know in the comments.
This story originally published on Mashable here.