Tiny Antennas Don’t Prevent Copyright Suit

An array of mini-antennas that power Aereo. Photo Aereo

Fox Television, PBS and Univision Television and others Thursday asked a federal judge to halt an impending subscription service that enables the streaming of broadcast television to any internet-enabled device.

The suit targets Aereo, a $12 monthly subscription service set to debut in New York on March 14. The suit claims that the upstart, backed by media mogul Barry Diller, has failed to acquire licenses from the networks.

Aereo is to deliver broadcasts from NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, Fox and others — broadcasts it acquires over the air with multiple tiny antennas placed at its New York headquarters.

Think of it as turning your tablet, smartphone or PC into a television set.

What’s more, each customer is hooked to a personal antenna housed at Aereo’s headquarters, a service the broadcasters called “technological gimmickry.”

“Aereo has not licensed this television programming from those who own it. Nor has it sought or received consent from the television signal owners,” the New York federal lawsuit said.

It’s hard not to liken the legality of the service to Zediva.

Zediva’s offering was quite simple: $2 for a digital movie rental that lasts for two full weeks. It didn’t strike any deals with studios and didn’t plan on doing so. Zediva thought it could circumvent the need to be licensed by literally renting customers a remote DVD and a DVD player, while a customer’s computer, tablet or Google TV acted as the controller.

The Motion Picture Association of America sued the company out of existence, and it shuttered in October.

The broadcasters added that “no amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo — or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated ‘rabbit ears’ — changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit plaintiffs’ broadcasts may do so only with plaintiffs’ authority.”

When Aereo unveiled the service two weeks ago, its founder and CEO Chet Kanojia said he was on solid ground because each customer is linked to a personal antenna — even if it’s not theirs physically.

It’s a model, he said, “consistent with over-the-air broadcasting.”

He said the monthly fee “supports the infrastructure and power and bandwidth, not licensing.”

No hearing date has been set.

Hat tip: PaidContent