Aereo's streaming TV service avoids ban, as trial looms

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Aereo, a service that streams live broadcast television online, just scored a big win against the major TV networks.

Broadcasters—including CBS, Comcast, News Corp., and Disney—had sought an injunction against Aereo, arguing that the subscription service infringed their copyrights. But in a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling that allows Aereo to stay up and running.

With a preliminary injunction out of the question, broadcasters are planning to take the case to trial, the New York Times reports. In the meantime, Aereo’s service will continue to operate, as the company tries to expand beyond the New York metropolitan area.

These tiny TV antennas from Aereo pick up broadcast TV signals, which Aereo then streams to desktop Web browsers, iOS devices, and set-top boxes.

Aereo is a subscription service that lets users watch live broadcast television online. For $8 a month, subscribers lease a tiny TV antenna, which Aereo stores remotely at its own facility. Aereo then streams the video to desktop Web browsers, iOS devices, and set-top boxes such as the Apple TV and Roku. The service also includes online DVR functionality.

The appeals court didn’t buy broadcasters’ argument that Aereo counts as a “public performance,” therefore requiring the networks’ consent to transmit. The court noted that each Aereo user is assigned a separate antenna and individual DVR storage, and that broadcasters failed to argue why Aereo is any less private than a traditional TV antenna.

“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,” the court wrote.

An earlier ruling by the same appeals court on a remote DVR service from Cablevision factored heavily into the Aereo decision. In that case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s decision, finding that Cablevision hadn’t infringed copyright by storing recordings on its own servers instead of on local DVR boxes.

The Aereo case isn’t the only big effort by broadcasters to strike down new types of television service. They’re also in the process of suing Dish Network over its Hopper with Sling, which streams video to phones and tablets and can also automatically skip commercials on primetime TV shows.

Legal arguments aside, it’s clear why the big networks are trying to shut down these types of services: They’re busy figuring out streaming on their own, as they try to come up with ways that keep their existing business models intact. Broadcasters don’t want to lose control to company like Aereo, which is unencumbered by the revenue models TV networks depend on, but they may not have a choice if the courts keep ruling against them.

Due to a production error, the name of Aereo was misspelled in this article’s headline. We have corrected the error.

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