The ruling, issued Wednesday, could affect not only the availability of television broadcast content online, but also the future of cloud computing, Reuters reports.
Here are five things you should know about the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision in American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo:
What is Aereo, anyway? As described in the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion, Aereo is a company that allows subscribers to watch television programs in almost real-time over the Internet. Programming is streamed a subscriber using one of thousands of small antennas located in a centralized warehouse, each dedicated to a single subscriber's programming requests. The antennas receive the broadcast signals, which are translated and saved as data on Aereo's servers. The data can then be streamed by subscribers from subscriber-specific folders.
Why did broadcasters sue the company? Broadcasters claimed that Aereo was infringing on the copyrights they hold in their programming by "performing" their copyrighted material publicly without permission and without paying the broadcasters any money.
What did Aereo's lawyers have to say in the company's defense? Lawyers for Aereo argued that they were simply providing the equipment for users to watch the copyrighted programming, rather than "performing" it themselves. Aereo claimed that each program streamed by a user of their service is a "personal copy" by virtue of each user's individual antenna and subscriber-specific folder. They noted that even if two users watch the same programming, they each do so using separate antennas and folders.
What was the Supreme Court's reasoning? In the Aereo opinion, the Court's majority took a two-pronged approach. They first found that Aereo was a "performer" as intended by Congress in its 1976 amendment to the Copyright Act, which made it clear that systems used to merely enhance a viewer's ability to receive broadcasting are still "performers" under the law. They then found that despite Aereo's carefully crafted technical workarounds, their use of individual antennas and storage were still considered "public performances."
What did the dissent say? The 6-3 opinion included a dissent written by Justice Antonin Scalia. The dissent agreed with the majority that Aereo's service "ought not to be allowed." But it also stated, "The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable-television systems, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its result-driven rule."