Author: Matthew Byrnes, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review
In late April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case that has the potential to drastically change how Americans watch broadcast programming. The case, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., (“Aereo”) involves the online television subscription service Aereo.[i] Founded in 2012, Aereo allows its users to view or record local network broadcasts on their computer or web-enabled devices starting at $8 a month, plus tax.[ii] Unlike a cable television provider however, Aereo does not pay licensing fees to carry these over-the-air transmissions. Broadcasters fear this will undercut more than $3 billion in annual revenues that they receive from retransmission fees.[iii] In light of the “cut-the-cord” trend, this fear is warranted. If Aereo’s business model is upheld amidst copyright infringement claims, it will rock the traditional cable provider structure. However, when looking to the history of the Copyright Act and its treatment of the broadcasting industry, the Supreme Court is right to pull the plug on Aereo’s system unless it starts paying royalties.