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Cablevision takes side of broadcasters in fight against Aereo

September 24, 2012|By Joe Flint
(Cablevision )

The broadcast industry has received support from an unusual source in its legal battle against Aereo: a new company that distributes local TV signals over the Internet.

In an amicus brief filed late Friday in federal court in New York, Cablevision Systems Corp. said Aereo's service violates copyright laws. What makes this filing significant is that it is a legal victory Cablevision scored against the TV industry that Aereo has cited in making the case that its service does not violate copyright law.

Aereo, a start-up backed by Barry Diller's IAC/InterActive Corp., offers a service that transmits the signals of local broadcast stations via the Internet to smartphones, tablets and Internet-friendly TVs. Aereo charges subscribers a monthly fee of $12 for a small antenna that receives broadcast signals and a remote digital video recorder that can hold up to 40 hours of shows.

Several big broadcasters -- including CBS, NBC, Fox and Univision -- are trying to shut Aereo down, claiming the service violates copyright. The parties filed a preliminary injunction to shut it down in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

But in July, that request was denied by Judge Alison Nathan, who cited a U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld that a remote DVR service offered by Cablevision did not violate copyright law. If not for that ruling, she noted, "plaintiffs would likely prevail on their request for a preliminary injunction." The broadcasters are appealing that ruling. 

Cablevision said the interpretation of that 2nd Circuit decision is incorrect.

"The critical legal difference is that Cablevision pays statutory licensing and retransmission consent fees for the content it retransmits, while Aereo does not," the company said in its filing.

Cablevision went on to question Aereo's claim that its use of individual antennas and hard-drive recordings for each subscriber means it is not violating copyright law if the transmission is available only to one person.

"Because the recordings are made available to any subscriber, the resulting performances are to the public, even though members of the public watch the recordings one at a time," Cablevision countered.

Cablevision also took issue with claims that its remote digital video recording service (in which programs recorded by subscribers are stored in a headend rather than on individual cable boxes), is similar to Aereo.

"Unlike Aereo, Cablevision operates a licensed cable system that retransmits content to subscribers pursuant to agreements with content providers," Cablevision said.

An Aereo spokesperson declined to comment.

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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