Launched in 2012, Aereo is a service that lets people rent a remote TV antenna that lets them record over-the-air TV shows to the cloud and stream them across their devices – all for as little as $8 per month. It is also the subject of a Supreme Court case that could have implications on how remote services are treated by law.
Cable companies, which pay for the right to rebroadcast over-the-air TV stations, are suing Aereo, claiming that its video streaming constitutes a “public performance” which would require consent from the content providers to re-transmit.
Aereo contends that it only facilitates a “private performance,” and it’s just a matter of where the antenna is located. Instead of rabbit ears on top the TV set, TV viewers are renting out a staple-sized antenna in a New Jersey data center.
Since consumers have always had the right to make copies of public-spectrum broadcasts for personal use, some think that moving the antenna and the DVR to the cloud is natural, especially given that people are now watching TV differently than they did when there was typically just one screen per household.
Typically, media stored in individual accounts on cloud services (ie. Apple’s iCloud or Microsoft’s Skydrive) is treated as though it were for private use, not broadcast. This is different than the fees that one would pay for a public showing of a movie, or to play a song in public.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a verdict by early summer, and some worry that its ruling could impinge on the operation of a variety of other cloud services that had previously been treated as personal services.