In a case originating from the Southern District (see our prior coverage here), the Supreme Court today ruled 6-3 that Aereo, a company that streams live broadcast television over the internet (with a slight delay) violates the Copyright Act’s “Transmit Clause,” which gives copyright owners the exclusive right to public performance of their work. From Justice Breyer’s majority opinion:
[H]aving considered the details of Aereo’s practices,we find them highly similar to those of the [community antenna TV] systems . . . that the 1976 amendments sought to bring within the scope of the Copyright Act. Insofar as there are differences, those differences concern not the nature of the service that Aereo provides so much as the technological manner in which it provides the service. We conclude that those differences are not adequate to place Aereo’s activities outside the scope of the Act. For these reasons, we conclude that Aereo “perform[s]” petitioners’ copyrighted works “publicly,” as those terms are defined by the Transmit Clause.
Justice Scalia’s dissent responds:
I share the Court’s evident feeling that what Aereo is doing (or enabling to be done) to the Networks’ copyrighted programming ought not to be allowed. . . . . [W]hat we have before us must be considered a “loophole” in the law. It is not the role of this Court to identify and plug loopholes. It is the role of good lawyers to identify and exploit them, and the role of Congress to eliminate them if it wishes. Congress can do that, I may add, in a much more targeted, better informed, and less disruptive fashion than the crude “looks-like-cable-TV” solution the Court invents today. We came within one vote of declaring the VCR contraband 30 years ago in Sony. The dissent in that case was driven in part by the plaintiffs’ prediction that VCR technology would wreak all manner of havoc in the television and movie industries. The Networks make similarly dire predictions about Aereo. We are told that nothing less than “the very existence of broadcast television as we know it” is at stake. Aereo and its amici dispute those forecasts and make a few of their own, suggesting that adecision in the Networks’ favor will stifle technological innovation and imperil billions of dollars of investments in cloud-storage services. We are in no position to judge the validity of those self-interested claims or to foresee the path of future technological development. Hence, the proper course is not to bend and twist the Act’s terms in an effort to produce a just outcome, but to apply the law as it stands and leave to Congress the task of deciding whether the Copyright Act needs an upgrade.