Boston ABC Affiliate Sues Aereo

BOSTON—WCVB-TV, the Hearst-owned ABC affiliate in Boston, has filed suit against Aereo for copyright infringement. Aereo is the start-up that’s redistributing broadcast television signals to mobile devices without the consent of broadcasters. Several in New York have already sued the company in that city.

Boston became Aereo’s second market on May 15. Aereo is delivering 28 channels in the market, including the local PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC, CW, Fox, ION, Univision and Telemundo affiliates, for $8 to $12 a month with 20-40 hours of cloud-based DVR-type storage.

Atlanta, a third market, remains in beta, (though expected to launch commercially any day). Chicago is on deck for the fall, with several more metropolitan areas slated for launch later this year. Aereo’s founders, including its backer, Barry Diller, contend that the service is not subject to copyright requirements a la retransmission consent law because of its technology.

Copyright, and thus retransmission, is based on a public performance comprising one-to-many. In this way, a cable or satellite TV provider takes a broadcast signal and redistributes it to multiple subscribers. Aereo claims to be renting tiny individual antennas to individual subscribers, making the delivery method akin to a private performance and thereby not in violation of copyright law.

“Aereo has no right, under any license or statue, to retransmit WCVB’s copyrighted programming,” the station’s filing states. “Other companies, such as cable, satellite and other telecommunications distributors obtain the consent of WCVB and pay WCVB to retransmit WCVB’s signal containing its programming. Aereo, by contrast, retransmits that same programming to its paying subscribers without permission from WCVB, in clear violation of federal and state law.”

Radio frequency engineers have questioned Aereo’s technical methodology, which is the basis of its claims that it is not violating broadcaster copyrights. The tiny antennas, however, have not been subject to federal or third-party testing. WCVB’s suit also notes that Aereo is technologically altering the station’s signal for delivery to smartphones and tablets, which do not decode ATSC digital television signals. Altering the signal is, of itself, a copyright violation in that altering content creates a “derivative” work.

“Such a creation of derivatives works from WCVB’s audiovisual works constitutes infringement of WCVB’s exclusive rights under copyright law,” the suit states.

WCVB has asked the court for an injunction and a finding of copyright violation. Injunctions have been denied both in the federal district and appeals courts in the New York case, which now awaits the copyright decision.

The Boston lawsuit coincides with Aereo’s launch through a third-party software maker, MediaMall Technologies, which is incorporating Aereo’s app in its PlayOn platform. PlayOn will provides Aereo access to a variety of gaming consoles and Android devices.

July 9, 2013:
Aereo Launches on PlayOn Software
MediaMall Technologies said Tuesday that its PlayOn software will now make Aereo local TV channels accessible to Aereo TV users on select gaming consoles, set-top boxes and Android devices. ~ from TWICE

June 28, 2013:
Aereo’s Unlikely Proposition
“Anyone who has taken antennae 101 knows that tiny pieces of metal separated by tiny distances act as one piece of metal.”

April 23, 2013:Aereo to Launch in Boston May 30
Beginning May 15, consumers who have pre-registered with the service will receive a special invitation to receive the service. After May 30, Aereo will make membership available to all eligible consumers across the Boston designated market area, which includes more than 4.5 million people in 16 counties in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Boston is the second city to launch as part of Aereo’s expansion announced in January.