Aereo ‘cautiously optimistic’ after Supreme Court hearing

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U.S. Supreme Court Justices Tuesday “gave little sign of support for Aereo during the one-hour oral argument, but the bigger concern appeared to be the possible broader implications of a ruling against the company,” Lawrence Hurley reports for Reuters.

The court was hearing a challenge by broadcasters to the legality of Aereo, a company that streams and stores for subscribers broadcast programs picked up by a tiny rented antenna. Two previous cases have gone Aereo’s way.

Videojournalists outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The justices were concerned what a ruling against Aereo might mean for cloud computing, Cecilia Kang reports: Justice Stephen Breyer “questioned the extent of broadcasters’ interpretation of copyright law, raising the fear that other cloud-based technologies like DropBox could open themselves up to liability for storing copyright content.”

David Frederick, who represented Aereo, “said the ‘cloud computing industry is freaked out about the case’ because it sees its $10 billion investment at risk if the court were to hold that anytime music or an image is stored online and then retrieved, the copyright law would be implicated,” Mark Sherman reports for AP.

“The court’s decision today will have significant consequences for cloud computing,” Frederick said in a statement outside the court, which Aereo transcribed and emailed to Poynter. “We’re confident, cautiously optimistic, based on the way the hearing went today that the Court understood that a person watching over-the-air broadcast television in his or her home is engaging in a private performance and not a public performance that would implicate the Copyright Act.”

A lot of this case will turn on the court’s reading of “public performance,” as Al Tompkins explained in a piece for Poynter early Tuesday. Frederick “repeatedly asserted that [Aereo] does only a private performance,” Brian Stelter writes.”The owners of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Univision and other broadcasters argue that Aereo qualifies as a ‘public performance’ of the TV shows they distribute, something that is prohibited under the Copyright Act.”

The justices “may seek to issue a somewhat narrow ruling,” Stelter writes.

“The Justices are not known for their technological expertise, so it will be interesting to see how they grapple tomorrow with the issues that this case presents,” SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe wrote in a “Plain English” preview of the case yesterday.

“The court also cycled through various analogies, comparing Aereo to a parking garage versus a valet service, a phonograph store, an antenna installer, and a cable company,” Adrianne Jeffries reported for The Verge. On Twitter, Jeffries noted that at least one justice is familiar with streaming technology:

 

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