You know that coach at the end of a ball game who sends his first string starters out, even though the clock’s nearly zero and the stands are a ghost town? You could say that’s Aereo chief, Chet Kanojia, right now. After a resounding Supreme Court defeat, in the wake of which even the service’s lead financial backer, Bary Diller, said “It’s over,” Kanojia put out a statement today to serve as a rallying cry, telling supporters to appeal to lawmakers and “make [their] voices heard.”
Aereo, a service which serves up cloud-based DVR transmissions of network broadcasts via tiny antennae for a fee of $8-12 per month, was struck down as illegal by the conservative Court last week, effectively ending the company’s viability in the market. It has been estimated that the company, which officially suspended service as of June 28th, can’t afford to pay the bills under the current terms for re-transmission of network content. However, in the face of near-certain defeat, Kanojia is still putting up the good fight.
“Today, I’m asking you to raise your hands and make your voices heard,” Kanojia writes. “Tell your lawmakers how disappointed you are that the nation’s highest court issued a decision that could deny you the right to use the antenna of your choice to access live over-the-air broadcast television.”
Kanojia went on to plead supporters to rally on social media, sending tweets, Facebook messages, and emails to their representatives in Congress. Aereo also updated its advocacy website site, protectmyantenna.org, telling users that the public broadcast spectrum is under assault, and explaining in detail why the company believes it has broken no laws.
The Supreme Court’s decision, handed down by Justice Breyer, claimed that Aereo’s use of broadcast content without paying licensing fees amounted to a public performance, not a private one as the service had claimed, and therefore is not protected by the Copyright Act of 1976. The decision likened Aereo to cable companies, which pay fees for the right to transmit local broadcasts.
The ruling marks a huge victory for broadcasters, which had been in constant litigation with Aereo since its inception. However, many have read the ruling as an indictment on more than just a single service or transmission method, fearing the replications could go beyond Aereo’s service, and affect other DVR based systems such as Tabloid and SimpleTV, as well as bigger players like TiVO.
In addition, many supporters consider the ruling an affront to new technologies, which, in its ambiguity, could even affect cloud-based services from the likes of Dropbox, iTunes, Amazon, and others. In the court’s dissenting minority opinion, Justic Scalia said as much, claiming the Court cannot guarantee its ruling won’t affect cloud-based storage and cable providers “given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.”
We’ll have to wait and see just what implications Wednesday’s decision will have on technology and the entertainment industry in the near future. As for Aereo, the company and its CEO are not going quietly into that dark night. Whether or not it can succeed in anything but the court of public opinion, however, remains to be seen. Aereo has a long hill to climb through the halls of Congress if it truly aims to stay in business.