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Aereo Lost at the Supreme Court. Now What?

Paul Clement, lawyer arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of American Broadcasting Companies Inc., in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.
Paul Clement, lawyer arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of American Broadcasting Companies Inc., in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Supreme Court has decided that setting up hundreds of tiny antennas, capturing television signals, and charging people to watch is a public performance. So ends the dream of Aereo, the Internet startup that thought it had found a clever way past copyright laws and spent its short lifespan battling broadcasters in the courts for its right to exist.

In legal terms, the 6-3 decision argues that Aereo violates broadcasters’ copyrights by distributing their work without their permission. The decision, delivered by Justice Stephen Breyer, says the court was unconvinced by Aereo’s argument that it was an equipment provider allowing people personal access to content they were legally allowed to access. Aereo’s business model—in which broadcasters received no fees from the startup—has been belittled as a Rube Goldberg contraption to get around copyright law. The Supreme Court ruling said that only “behind-the-scene technological differences” separated Aereo from cable providers.