Aereo suspends service following court ruling

New York-based streaming service Aereo has suspended operations following a ruling in the US Supreme Court earlier this week that its live and time-shifted streams of TV channels violate copyright law.

“We have decided to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps,” wrote Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia in a letter to customers posted on the company’s website. The letter also encouraged customers to sign up for updates at ProtectMyAntenna.org.

The case against Aereo was brought by US broadcasters who argued that it operated along the same lines as a cable provider because its service constitutes a “public performance”. Cable operators are legally required to obtain retransmission consent and pay license fees.

Aereo argued that its service was private, not public, because it transmitted from individually assigned antennas and the transmissions were only activated when individual subscribers requested them.

However, the majority opinion of the court came down on the side of the broadcasters: “Viewed in terms of Congress’ regulatory objectives, these behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s systems from cable systems, which do perform publicly. Congress would as much have intended to protect a copyright holder from the unlicensed activities of Aereo as from those of cable companies.”

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented: “Aereo does not perform ‘publicly’ at all,” wrote Scalia. “The Court manages to reach the opposite conclusion only by disregarding widely accepted rules for service-provider liability and adopting in their place an improvised standard (‘looks like cable TV’) that will sow confusion for years to come.”

Founded in February 2012 with backing from Barry Diller, Aereo allows consumers to access live and time-shifted streams of TV channels through internet browsers, without buying a cable subscription or installing a set-top box. The service was available across a range of iOS devices.