What do new cord-cutting technologies mean for copyright law?
In the newest iteration of DVR technology, Aereo—a newly launched tech company in New York City—has come under fire for selling a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet. Aereo’s unique business model consists of leasing antennae to subscribers who can then retransmit television broadcasts (hours or even just seconds after their original air-time) to their internet-enabled devices, whether a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. As of 2012 the service offered the retransmission of programming from twenty-eight channels, including all major broadcast channels.
Alarmed by this latest innovation in the cord-cutting online TV trend, a slew of broadcasters, including such heavy-hitters as CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, sued the nascent company for copyright infringement. They construe Aereo’s business model as analogous to that of a cable company—as a redistribution channel for media to the public—the only problem is, unlike the cable company, Aereo does not pay a license to television producers or broadcasters to retransmit that media, and in their view, is in violation of their copyright claims. Aereo, however, argues that its service is more akin to existing DVR, VCR, and DVD technologies—other equipment-based technologies whose “record” and “play” functions, under the current law, do not constitute copyright infringement.