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Aereo Answers Broadcasters' Lawsuit

3/12/2012 6:41 PM Eastern

In a response to one of the two lawsuits recently filed in Federal Court for the Southern District of New York by broadcasters and studios seeking to block a subscription service that would deliver broadcast signals to mobile devices, Aereo has filed an answer and counterclaim that vigorously denies it has broken any copyright laws.

Aereo was sued by broadcasters and studios after it announced plans to launch of a $12 a month subscription service in New York City. In the two suits, broadcasters and studios had charged Aereo with copyright violations and had sought to block the service, which is not paying broadcasters and rights holders for their content.

In the answer and counterclaim, Aereo argues "this case concerns the application of established law to an innovative use of familiar technology. Consumers use the Aereo Technology to do no more than what they were entitled to do: access local television broadcasts on the public airwaves using an individual antenna; create unique copies of that broadcast content for their own personal use; and play back their unique recordings to their television or other viewing devices for their personal use."

The response also argued that the case "involves nothing more than the application of settled law to updated technology" and asked for a declaratory judgment against the plaintiffs.

Aereo's response was filed in response to a suit filed by American Broadcasting Companies, Disney Enterprises, CBS Broadcasting, CBS Studios, NBC Universal Media, NBC Studios, Universal Network Television, Telemundo Network Group and WNJU-TV against Aereo.

This suit charges copyright violations. It seeks a preliminary and permanent junction against Aereo as well as damages, attorney fees and court costs.

Aereo also faces a second suit filed in Federal Court for the Southern District of New York naming PBS, Fox Television Stations, Univision Television Group, the Univision Network, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., WNET and Thirteen as plaintiffs.

In response to the ABC, CBS and NBC suit, Aereo "admits that it received no written authorization or written consent from plaintiffs to exercise any exclusive rights Plaintiffs may own in copyrighted works but denies that any such authorization or consent is needed for its members to use Aereo Technology or for Aereo otherwise to operate its business."

More specifically the answer avers tha the "plaintiffs' complaint fails because Aereo merely provides technology...that consumers may use to do what they are legally entitled to do: (1) access free and legally accessible over the air television broadcasts using an antenna; (2) create individual, unique recordings of those broadcasters for personal use;....and record and play back those unique recordings using a remotely-located digital video recorder (DVR) to personal devices."

Many of the legal issues surrounding the case will involve how the court interprets Aereo's technology under existing copyright laws.

In delivering broadcast signals to Internet-connected devices, Aereo receives the broadcast signals for each subscriber on a separate coin-sized antenna. It then takes those signals, encodes them and sends them out over the Internet, where they can be accessed by iPhones, iPads and other Internet-connected devices.

Because each subscriber has its own antenna located in Aereo's facility and because each subscriber has its own dedicated storage space for the DVR features, Aereo argues that no copyright violations occur and that it is simply providing consumers with technology that they "may use to do what they are legally entitled to do."

Broadcasters, however, argued that the technology does not overcome the basic fact that they were not being paid for their copyrighted content.

"Aereo has no rights, under any license, statute or case law, to any of the copyrighted programming that is the basis of its subscription only Internet service," the original lawsuit filed by ABC, CBS, NBC and others argued. "Aereo just helps itself - without permission and on a round-the-clock basis - to programs created, owned and broadcast by plaintiffs. Although other distributors, including cable and satellite operators and telephone companies, pay to retransmit the same programming, Aereo's business is based on circumventing the carefully balanced distribution system mandated by Congress. That is infringement."

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