U.S. Supreme Court Wrestles with Outdated Copyright Laws

    Apr 28, 2014
    A copyright case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court illustrates just how out of date some copyright laws are, especially given the advent of the cloud. Broadcasters contend that Aereo, a 2-year-old company that retransmits over-the-air-broadcast television to its paying customers using thousands of dime-sized antennas, is violating U.S. copyright law because it doesn’t have the broadcasters’ permission to do that.


    The case has created a dilemma. According to an Ars Technica article, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Yahoo and others, fear a decision in favor of the broadcasters “would threaten one of the most important and emerging industries in the U.S. economy: cloud computing.” 

    Under current law, Aereo is free to retransmit broadcast signals without paying licensing fees, something cable companies can’t even do. A federal appeals court likened the company’s approach to providing three devices: a standard TV antenna, a DVR, and a Slingbox. The broadcasters counter that it’s a copyright breach because Aereo hasn’t paid fees to retransmit their content. They say it amounts to a “public performance” which would require the broadcasters’ consent. As for endangering cloud services, the broadcasters think that likening Aereo to services like Dropbox and Google Drive is far-fetched.

    "There is an obvious difference between a service that merely stores and provides an individual user access to copies of copyrighted content that the user already has legally obtained, and a service that offers the copyrighted content itself to the public at large," the broadcasters said in their brief. 

    The justices heard oral arguments on April 22. It’s hard to predict what the final decision will look like but it does appear that the justices are leaning toward a decision that would not damage other companies.

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