In an opinion issued today, a divided panel of the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Nathan’s denial of the motion for a preliminary injunction by a group of television networks against internet television provider Aereo. As we have covered in several prior posts, the networks are seeking to prevent what they claim is unauthorized infringing use of their broadcast television programming over the internet. Judge Nathan denied the motion, citing the Second Circuit’s prior opinion in Cartoon Network LP, LLLP v. CSC Holdings, Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2008). The Second Circuit affirmed Judge Nathan’s ruling, holding that she “correctly concluded that Aereo’s system is not materially distinguishable from the system upheld in Cartoon Network.” In a lengthy dissent, Judge Chin disagreed, calling Aereo’s technology a “sham” to avoid the copyright laws.
Aereo argues that it is not violating the law because its transmissions are not “public” performances; instead, the argument goes, its transmissions are “private” performances, and a “private performance is not copyright infringement.” It contends that it is merely providing a “technology platform that enables consumers to use remotely located equipment . . . to create, access and view their own unique recorded copies of free over-the-air broadcast television programming.” Aereo’s “technology platform” is, however, a sham. The system employs thousands of individual dime-sized antennas, but there is no technologically sound reason to use a multitude of tiny individual antennas rather than one central antenna; indeed, the system is a Rube Goldberg-like contrivance, over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act and to take advantage of a perceived loophole in the law. After capturing the broadcast signal, Aereo makes a copy of the selected program for each viewer, whether the user chooses to “Watch” now or “Record” for later. Under Aereo’s theory, by using these individual antennas and copies, it may retransmit, for example, the Super Bowl “live” to 50,000 subscribers and yet, because each subscriber has an individual antenna and a “unique recorded cop[y]” of the broadcast, these are “private” performances. Of course, the argument makes no sense. These are very much public performances. . . . Aereo is doing precisely what cable companies, satellite television companies, and authorized Internet streaming companies do — they capture over-the-air broadcasts and retransmit them to customers — except that those entities are doing it legally, pursuant to statutory or negotiated licenses, for a fee. By accepting Aereo’s argument that it may do so without authorization and without paying a fee, the majority elevates form over substance. Its decision, in my view, conflicts with the text of the Copyright Act, its legislative history, and our case law.