The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday afternoon granted review in ABC Inc. v. Aereo Inc., a high-stakes copyright dispute that could shake the television industry to its core. The case will likely be argued in April and decided by the end of the term in late June.
The case was brought by broadcast networks ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS, among others, against the 2011 upstart Aereo, which transmits free broadcast shows individually to customers through dime-sized antennas. The networks say the technology was meant to evade the Copyright Act, which gives copyright holders the exclusive right to “perform the copyrighted work publicly.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with Aereo that its transmission method does not add up to a public performance, but instead to thousands of private performances.
But the networks fear the technology could erode their traditional business model, whereby cable and satellite systems pay for their programming. "The Second Circuit’s decision is already transforming the industry and threatening the very fundamentals of broadcast television," the networks' brief asserted. "This court’s intervention is urgently needed.”
The court's announcement was not altogether surprising. Both sides in the dispute asked the high court to take up the case, underscoring its importance and urgency for the industry. The dispute will likely be argued by veteran Supreme Court advocates. Paul Clement of Bancroft and Paul Smith of Jenner & Block represent the networks, and David Frederick of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, represents Aereo.
In a statement after the court announced its grant of certiorari, Aereo founder Chet Kanojia said, "We said from the beginning that it was our hope that this case would be decided on the merits and not through a wasteful war of attrition. We look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court and we have every confidence that the Court will validate and preserve a consumer's right to access local over-the-air television with an individual antenna, make a personal recording with a DVR, and watch that recording on a device of their choice."
The broadcast case was one of eight in which the court granted review on Friday, helping fill out the rest of the argument docket for the current term. Among the others docketed were: Argentina v. NML Capital, on discovery of assets of a foreign country; Limelight Networks v. Akamai and Nautilus v. Biosig, both patent cases; Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus on criminalizing false campaign speech; and POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola Company, a Lanham Act false advertising case.
The court will issue additional orders when it returns to the bench Monday Jan. 13 after its holiday recess.