Copyright Office Rejects Aereo’s Effort to Qualify as a Cable Company

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The U.S. Copyright Office has denied Aereo’s effort to obtain a statutory license to stream local broadcast station signals.

After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of broadcasters last month, Aereo set out on a new legal strategy. The majority of the justices concluded that because Aereo was “substantially similar” to a cable company, it fell within the scope of the 1976 Copyright Act that targets multichannel distributors.

So Aereo has sought to do what cable companies do: Obtain a statutory license that allows them to transmit broadcast stations, as long as they pay royalties.

But the Copyright Office has rejected that approach, concluding that “internet transmissions fall outside the scope” of the statutory license. In a letter to Aereo, the office’s general counsel, Jacqueline Charlesworth, cited a 2012 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals case that rejected a similar attempt by streaming service Ivi to obtain a statutory license, noting that such licenses are meant to encompass “localized retransmission services” that are “regulated as cable systems by the FCC.” She added that “we don’t see anything” from the Supreme Court’s recent decision “that would alter this conclusion.”

The FCC has taken comments on a proposal to classify Internet transmissions like a cable system, but the proposal hasn’t moved forward.

Update: To make clear, what the Copyright Office is doing is not processing Aereo’s filings because of their belief that the company does not qualify for the license. In her letter, Charlesworth writes that they are accepting Aereo’s filings on a “provisional basis” because Aereo is pursuing the issue in the 2nd Circuit. “Aereo should be aware that, depending upon further review of the issue, the office may subsequently determine that it is appropriate to take definitive action on Aereo’s filings, which could include rejection of the statements.”

Aereo declined comment. The letter from the Copyright Office is here.

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  1. jhs39 says:

    This doesn’t make much sense based on the Supreme Court’s decision but our government is so hopelessly corrupt decisions are made based on who can buy the most influence instead of the law. Lower courts all over the country ruled that Aero was not breaking copyright law by helping customers access free over the air broadcast signals in an easier and more useful manner. Defying the law and common sense the Supreme Court rules that what Aero is doing is substantially similar to cable retransmission, so they fall under the same copyright scheme as cable operators who pay retransmission fees. Now the US Copyright Office ignores the Supreme Court ruling and states that Aero is not substantially similar to cable broadcasters after all–which means broadcasters win and every single person in the United States loses again–because money always trumps the law and the interests of ordinary people in the United States today. Even if people had no interest in subscribing to the Aero service they should be appalled by the way broadcasters are able to shut down the business of a potential competitor that was not breaking the law. Even after the awful Supreme Court decision the copyright office still rules exactly the way broadcasters want–by contradicting the Supreme Court decision and ensuring that there is no legal way for Aero to operate. Expect your cable bills to keep rising and rising forever–and don’t be surprised if they are eventually given the power to dock your paycheck if you try to cancel your service or fall behind in your payments.

    • Steve Symonds says:

      What in the world are you babbling about? Aereo’s entire case here was “the Devil (SOTUS) made me do it.” Aereo is NOT by any stretch of the imagination a Cable System. On the other hand, they were most definitely engaged in piracy as defined by the DMCA. You obviously enjoy making completely unfounded, utterly senseless, hyperbolic statements that are prima facie absurd. Therefore, it’s entirely appropriate that readers such as myself who have worked in the business for decades can tell you to go take a hike. Sheesh.

      • Mark says:

        Steve, if Aereo isn’t a Cable System by any stretch of the imagination, then what exactly is it? Yes, you’ve called the process piracy, but what is Aereo if it ISN’T cable? What business do you have decades of work experience? Based solely on your writing you sound like someone who works in the cable industry and doesn’t want Aereo to exist – period – as if it’s a threat to your way of life. It’s not a threat to broadcasters in the sense that it’s collecting only signals that are already free (compared to encrypted). I happen to disagree with the SCOTUS ruling because of the majority opinion that basically says, it looks, sounds, walks, and quacks like cable. Internet delivery isn’t the same as cable delivery. If anything, one would have thought cable companies would want more subscribers to their internet services. They won’t get those people now. I, too, have been in this business working for local affiliates for more than 20 years. If anything, the Aereo transmission model helps our viewers who are too far away or blocked by terrain to get a reliable signal over the air – thanks to government mandate to switch to digital – and buy the products and services advertised on the local stations and within Network programming. There wasn’t a march on Washington from anyone demanding the switch; it was simply another money grab by the overlords is D.C., but I digress. Free, OTA, broadcasting is still mandated by Washington, although it looks like the goal of the current FCC Commissioner is to put that model out of business soon. But my question to you remains…what is Aereo?

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