NFL, MLB: If Aereo Wins, Broadcasters Will Lose

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WASHINGTON — Forget sports siphoning to pay TV. If Aereo wins its court case, the floodgates will open, and the World Series, Super Bowl and probably the regular seasons of pro baseball and football will move to ESPN, TNT and other pay outlets.

That was the message from Major League Baseball and the NFL to the Supreme Court in an amicus brief supporting a broadcaster effort to block Aereo’s online TV-station delivery service. Stations argue that Aereo threatens their business model, and the brief from the sports leagues defi nitely put some meat on that bone.

“If copyright holders lose their exclusive retransmission- licensing rights, and the substantial benefits derived from those rights when they place programming on broadcast stations, those stations will become less attractive mediums for distributing copyrighted content,” they wrote to the court. “The option for copyright holders will be to move that content to paid cable networks (such as ESPN and TNT), where Aereo-like services cannot hijack and exploit their programming without authorization.”

The leagues noted that they get a $100 million cut of the $300 million in compulsory copyright-license fees MSOs pay to retransmit TV station content, and indirectly benefit from the billions in retrans fees broadcasters also get. Both of those models are threatened by an Aereo win, since cable could also use that model to avoid paying broadcasters, the leagues said.

The leagues said the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’s conclusion that Aereo did not violate copyright laws by not paying for the TV signals it collects in an on-air antenna farm and delivers to subscribers “judicially empowers Aereo and similar services to destroy marketplace-negotiated exclusivity.” Broadcasters had sought an injunction from the appeals court, and when that was denied, appealed to the Supreme Court.

The NFL pointed out that Aereo could theoretically create a free out-of-market package by delivering a suite of TV stations airing different games in their home markets. Aereo currently confines its service to in-market stations, but the leagues said the court decision does not preclude it from extending its reach.

“The court’s intervention is now necessary to restore clarity and certainty in this area and to prevent the unraveling of a marketplace built upon the licensing of rights rather than the expropriation of such rights through technological chicanery,” the leagues said.

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