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US gov’t backs broadcasters vs Aereo

The US department of justice is siding with the country’s main broadcast networks in their ongoing legal battle against online streaming service Aereo.

Aereo allows subscribers to watch TV channels on mobile devices using a personal antenna but does not pay licensing fees to broadcasters which has sparked a furious legal row which is heading for a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for April 22.

The solicitor general’s submission to the Supreme Court ahead of the hearing dismisses Aereo’s claim that the ‘personal antenna’ method of content delivery precludes it from paying license fees.

It says: “The fact that as part of that system respondent uses unique copies and many individual transmissions does not alter the conclusion that it is retransmitting broadcast content to the public.

“Like its competitors, the respondent therefore must obtain licenses to perform the copyrighted content on which its business relies.”

Aereo previously won a case in Massachusetts trying to block its roll-out but more recently suffered a defeat in Utah bringing about an injunction in six US states.

The judge in that case said he believed the broadcasters would win through in the Supreme Court and now it seems the Obama administration agrees with him.

Aereo, backed by former Fox chief Barry Diller at its 2012 launch, has previously welcomed the chance to state its case in the Supreme Court with founder and CEO Chet Kanojia saying he wanted the matter “resolved on the merits rather than through a wasteful war of attrition.”

Broadcasters fear the model could threaten the distribution fees they receive from pay TV platforms but Kanojia said previously: “Consumers have a fundamental right to watch over the air broadcast television via an antenna and to record copies for their personal use. The Copyright Act provides no justification to curtail that right simply because the consumer is using modern, remotely located equipment.”

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