Can Rabbit Ears Prevent a Copyright Lawsuit?

A new subscription service that would allow users to watch broadcast television over the Internet on devices like smartphones and laptops is facing legal trouble before it even officially launches. Facing allegations of copyright infringement by Fox Television, PBS, ABC, and other leading networks, the start-up’s defense hinges on tiny rabbit ears.

As detailed in the complaint, Aereo’s new service will take broadcast television signals for the New York-area television stations and retransmit them over the Internet to Aereo subscribers. The plaintiffs contend that because Aereo has not licensed this television programming, it will be committing copyright infringement and have asked the court to block the service.

As explained by PC Magazine, Aereo claims that its service is legal because it will provide all customers with their own set of “rabbit ears” antennas. The video will then be digitally processed, returned to the servers, and finally streamed to users over the Internet.

“Aereo does not believe that the broadcasters’ position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues,” the company said in a statement.

“Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use,” Aereo added. “Innovations in technology over time, from digital signals to Digital Video Recorders (“DVRs”), have made access to television easier and better for consumers. Aereo provides technology that enables consumers to use their cloud DVR and their remote antenna to record and watch the broadcast television signal to which they are entitled anywhere they are, whether on a phone, a tablet, a television or a laptop.”

In response to the company’s attempt to side-step costly licenses, the broadcasters argue that “no amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo — or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated ‘rabbit ears’ — changes the fundamental principle of copyright law that those who wish to retransmit plaintiffs’ broadcasts may do so only with plaintiffs’ authority.”

Other companies who have tried to use loopholes in the copyright law to avoid television licensing have been largely unsuccessful. I amcurious to see if Aereo fares any better.


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