TV Broadcasters Ask Supreme Court to Review Aereo Dispute (Read Petition)

Barry Diller - television interview in New York - P - 2010
Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Television broadcasters are asking the highest court in the United States for answers on Aereo's legality.

The digital company captures over-the-air TV signals and relays them to subscribers' digital devices. The broadcasters have contended this is an infringement on their copyrights and specifically, a violation of their performance rights. A New York federal judge, however, refused to grant an injunction on the grounds that each Aereo subscriber was receiving a private, individualized transmission stream. In April, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that denial.

On Friday, the broadcasters filed a petition for writ of certiorari.

According to the petition, the question being presented is "whether a company 'publicly performs' a copyrighted television program when it retransmits a broadcast of that program to thousands of paid subscribers over the Internet."

The petitioners say that the 2nd Circuit ruling "threatens to upend" the billions of dollars that the TV industry has invested in programming "by blessing a business model that retransmits 'live TV' to paying customers without obtaining any authorization or paying a penny to the copyright owners."

It's argued that Aereo's system is best interpreted as a public rather than private performance under the Copyright Act and Congress' intent "to include retransmission services within the scope of the public-performance right."

The cert petition was handled by former United States Solicitor General Paul Clement with assistance from attorneys at Jenner & Block and Debevoise & Plimpton.

UPDATE: One cable company believes that the TV broadcasters have gone too far. In reaction to the petition, a Cablevision spokesperson says, "We are dismayed by the broadcasters' brazen attempt, in a case about Aereo, to go after the legal underpinning of all cloud-based services, everything from digital lockers to Cablevision's own RS-DVR service. Given that there are much narrower -- and more persuasive -- legal grounds for invalidating Aereo that do not threaten such underpinnings, the broadcasters' approach can only be seen as a willful attempt to stifle innovation. If Aereo ends up prevailing, it will serve the broadcasters right."

Read the broadcasters' full arguments why they believe the Supreme Court should review this case now: