Smack-Down for Aereo?

I recently wrote about the new Aereo service scheduled to launch in New York City this month. Other systems that have tried to provide broadcast content over the Internet have been smacked down in the courts, but Aereo and its backers believe that it has a model that will hold up to challenges. And it looks as though we’re going to get the chance to find out if they are right.

Two separate groups have already filed suit against the new service, and together they represent the heavy hitters in the television industry: Fox is owned by News Corp. (which also owns The Wall Street Journal,) NBC is a unit of Comcast , ABC is a unit of Walt Disney, and CBS is a unit of CBS Corp. It’s enough to make most startups just shut down and leave town.

In this case, however, the defense is funded in part by deep-pocket investors including Barry Diller, who just happened to found Fox Broadcasting and USA Network in the first place. A statement on the Aereo company blog makes it clear that they welcome the challenge:

Today, two groups of broadcasters filed two separate federal lawsuits against Aereo in the Southern District of New York claiming that Aereo will infringe their copyrights by making available technology which enables consumers to access broadcast television via a remote antenna and DVR.  Aereo does not believe that the broadcasters position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues.

Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use.   Innovations in technology over time, from digital signals to Digital Video Recorders (“DVRs”), have made access to television easier and better for consumers.   Aereo provides technology that enables consumers to use their cloud DVR and their remote antenna to record and watch the broadcast television signal to which they are entitled anywhere they are, whether on a phone, a tablet, a television or a laptop.

Aereo very much looks forward to its upcoming product launch as well as a prompt resolution of these cases.

Does giving every subscriber their own rented antenna mean that Aereo does not violate the broadcasters’ rights? We’ll be watching these lawsuits with interest.