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Supreme Court Considers Case That Could Change The Way We Watch TV

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Ian Bush Ian Bush
Ian Bush is an anchor, reporter, news editor, and technology editor&nb...
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By KYW tech editor Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A case that goes before the Supreme Court today pits a web startup against broadcast companies in a fight that could shape the future of television.

For a few bucks a month, Aereo streams the TV signals it grabs out of the air to customers who can watch live, or later on an Internet-connected device, with a DVR in the cloud.

“At the center of this is what we call the ‘retransmission right’,” explains Michael Risch.

Risch is a professor at the Villanova University School of Law. He says cable companies pay a fee to broadcasters to send to subscribers stuff that’s otherwise free. But Aereo claims it’s not the same as the Comcasts and Verizons of the world:

“They have lots of little antennas that are about dime-size,” Risch says. “Each antenna is capturing content and sending it to an individual customer who is tied to that antenna. Aereo says that’s different, because that’s really just a really long cable connected to the customer to an antenna that happens to be at our offices long distances away.”

So the service claims it’s a lot more like 21st century rabbit ears than it is like Comcast or Verizon.

But KYW’s parent company, CBS, along with NBC and ABC, say Aereo is stealing their content and is illegal because the service is a “public performance,” which, without compensation to the copyright holder, the 1976 Copyright Act declares as infringement.

It’s tough to say how the court will rule:

“These issues don’t really split among liberal-conservative lines,” says Risch.

Aereo is in eleven cities now with promises that Philadelphia is among the next in line.

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