The US Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt possibly a fatal blow to Indian-born Chet Kanojia’s start up that had threatened to change the way people watched TV.
Called Aereo, the start-up captured broadcast signals — not cable — using tiny penny-sized antennae and delivered them to subscribers’ mobile devices for a monthly fee of $8.
Kanojia, who was born and raised in Bhopal, launched Aereo in New York in 2012, and took it to 10 other cities quickly with plans for more, alarming the broadcast industry.
It was potentially disastrous for them, as they were getting nothing in return. And many of them actively considered going the cable route, to protect their programmes.
They took Kanojia to court accusing him of copyright violation. He lost the first round, but survived on on appeal. And then the battle reached the Supreme Court: Kanojia versus Everyone.
In a 6-3 ruling, the court sided with the broadcasters.
At the heart of the dispute, in legal terms, was the question whether Aereo was publicly “performing”, according to the Copyright Act , 1976, “copyrighted work”.
Aereo had argued it wasn’t performing copyrighted works, but was only providing the equipment for its subscribers to access them at the time of their choosing, and privately.
The court didn’t agree.
Writing the majority opinion, Justice Stephen J Bryer said Aereo “performs petitioners’ works publicly” and does not merely supply equipment that allows others to do so”.
But, Justice Breyer stressed that it was a limited decision that will not “discourage the emergence or use of different kinds of technologies”.
There was no response to the ruling from Aereo.
But the petitioners, that included every major broadcast company from NBC to ABC to Fox, welcomed the ruling. “We’re gratified the Court upheld important Copyright principles that help ensure that the high-quality creative content consumers expect and demand is protected and incentivized,” said Walt Disney, ABC’s parent company.