Aereo, a startup that allows residents of New York City to watch live broadcast television on an Apple iPhone or iPad, does not violate any laws, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ruled this week. The decision flies in the face of a number of TV networks, which said the service was harmful to their businesses.
Aereo — which charges subscribers $12 a month to rent the use of a TV antenna that captures live broadcast television, then streams the channels over the Internet to i-devices — was sued by ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in March for violating copyright law by transmitting their broadcasts over the Internet illegally.
Judge Nathan did say that Aereo would cause “imminent irreparable harm” to broadcasters by hampering their ability to negotiate advertising contracts due to the fact that Aereo users would not be counted as viewers, and therefore would not help boost ratings for shows (a primary factor that determines how much advertisers will pay to run ads on a network). The judge said that the damage caused by Aereo would likely amount to billions of dollars. Still, said Judge Nathan, the harm caused by Aereo was “not overwhelming,” and asserted that the damage inflicted on Aereo were the court to decide in the broadcaster’s favor would be more extreme.
Chet Kanojia, Aereo’s CEO, told the court that his company simply offered free television on an alternative platform, and that customers were simply paying to rent the use of Aereo’s TV antennas, equipment that anyone could install themselves at home. According to the Associated Press, Judge Nathan said that such a service was deemed lawful in a precedent set by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which ruled in favor of Cablevision and its Remote Storage DVR system.
While Nathan’s ruling is a win for Aereo, the celebrations may not last. The broadcasters said they intend to file an appeal immediately.
Watch a promo video about how Aereo works below:
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