Aereo, an online television streaming service backed by billionaire Barry Diller, has won the support of the Consumer Electronics Association — a significant ally in the media mogul’s fight against the major TV networks, which are opposing the fledgling service in the courts.
The networks — including ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, PBS and Univision — are trying to torpedo the service, arguing that Aereo, which allows consumers to access local broadcast signals over their computers, infringes on broadcast copyright.
But CEA and other Diller allies are contending that Aereo, which thus far has only been rolled out in New York City, is basically giving consumers a new way to access the signals that they already can access free with standard over-the-air antennas to their TV sets.
“Our legal system can and must favor innovation over the status quo,” said Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, in a statement Monday. “Our American exceptionalism and economic growth rely on innovation and we must fight legacy industries seeking to maintain their old ways of doing business.”
CEA, the leading trade association for the $206 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry, has also joined a pair of public interest watchdog groups — the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge — to fight a pending effort by the major TV networks to shut Aereo down in the U.S. Court of Appeals for New York.
“Consumers do not need permission to watch free TV,” said John Bergmayer, Public Knowledge senior staff attorney, in a statement Friday. “Just as viewers are allowed to use rabbit ears to receive over-the-air broadcasts, they’re allowed to make use of Aereo’s remote antenna service.”
In a decision in July, a federal judge rejected a request by the networks seeking to block Aereo’s rebroadcasts pending a trial. The networks are now challenging that decision in an appeal pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for New York.
"We're optimistic that in the final analysis, Aereo will be a copyright infringer," Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, told TheWrap.
Aereo works by picking up broadcast signals over clusters of tiny antennas and sending them via the internet to users’ mobile devices, computers or web-enabled televisions.
In his statement Monday, CEA’s Shapiro compared the Aereo case to the landmark 1984 Supreme Court Betamax case decision. In the Betamax case, the high court cleared the way for consumers to use home video recorders to tape TV programs, over the opposition of the Hollywood studios. The studios wanted to block sales of the recording devices as an infringement on their copyrights.
“In both cases, the technology expands the audience, is consistent with broadcaster-borrowed use of public spectrum for free over-the-air broadcasting and is being challenged as it is disruptive, new and not allowing consumer control by old industries,” Shapiro said in his statement.