In a case that could have a broad impact on how companies deliver content to consumers, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on April 22 in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. (No. 13-461).  At issue is whether Aereo’s service engages in public performances under the Copyright Act in transmitting broadcast television content to its subscribers’ wired and wireless devices.  While the Justices questioned both parties on a variety of issues, a clear focus for the Court was the potential impact of its decision on other technologies not at issue in this case.

Background

Aereo provides broadcast television streaming and recording services to its subscribers, who can watch selected programing on various Internet-connected devices, including televisions, mobile phones and tablets.  Aereo provides its service through individual antennas that pick up local television broadcast signals and transmit those signals to a server where individual copies of programs embedded in such signals are created and saved to the directories of subscribers who want to view such programs.  A subscriber can then watch the selected program nearly live (subject to a brief time-delay from the recording) or later from the recording.  No two users share the same antenna at the same time, nor do any users share access to the same stored copy of a program.

In 2012, various broadcasting companies sued Aereo for copyright infringement in the Southern District of New York claiming, among other things, that Aereo’s transmission of the plaintiffs’ copyrighted content to Aereo’s subscribers violated the copyright owners’ exclusive right to publicly perform those works.  That public performance right, codified in the 1976 Copyright Act, includes (1) any performance at a place open to the public or any gathering with a substantial number of people outside the “normal circle of family and social acquaintances,” and (2) the transmission of a performance to the public whether or not those members of the public receive it in the same location and at the same time.  This latter provision, commonly referred to as the Transmit Clause, was added to the Copyright Act by Congress in part to overturn prior Supreme Court precedent that had previously allowed cable companies to retransmit broadcast television signals without compensating the broadcaster.

The district court denied the broadcast companies’ preliminary injunction requests, finding that, based on Second Circuit precedent, Aereo’s transmissions were unlikely to constitute public performances.  The Second Circuit affirmed the decision, relying on the court’s earlier decision in Cartoon Network LP v. CSC Holdings, Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2008) (“Cablevision”), which found that a cable company’s remote-storage DVR system did not run afoul of the public performance right because each transmission was sent only to an individual user.  The Second Circuit held that Aereo does not engage in public performances because, as in Cablevision, Aereo’s system makes unique copies of every recording, and each transmission of a program to a customer is generated from that customer’s unique copy.

Aereo has been sued by other broadcasters in other jurisdictions as well.  The District of Massachusetts reached the same result as the Second Circuit, while the District of Utah came to the opposite conclusion.  Further, both the D.C. District Court and the Central District of California have issued preliminary injunctions against FilmOn X, a company that offers a service similar to Aereo’s.
Continue Reading Which Way is Aereo Pointing? The Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Public Performance Copyright Case

The latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.

In this issue of Socially Aware, our Burton Award-winning guide to the law and business of social media, we summarize the current status of various state laws restricting employer access to the personal social media accounts of applicants and employees; we

Cisco estimates that 25 billion devices will be connected in the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020. Analyst firm IDC makes an even bolder prediction: 212 billion connected devices by 2020. This massive increase in connectedness will drive a wave of innovation and could generate up to $19 trillion in savings over the next decade, according to Cisco’s estimates.

In the first part of this two-part post, we examined the development of, and practical challenges facing businesses implementing, IoT solutions. In this second part, we will look at the likely legal and regulatory issues associated with the IoT, especially from an EU and U.S. perspective.

The Issues

In the new world of the IoT, the problem is, in many cases, the old problem squared. Contractually, the explosion of devices and platforms will create the need for a web of inter-dependent providers and alliances, with consequent issues such as liability, intellectual property ownership and compliance with consumer protection regulations.
Continue Reading The Internet of Things Part 2: The Old Problem Squared

On March 27, 2014, the highest court in the European Union—the Court of Justice for the European Union (CJEU)—decided that copyright owners have the right to seek injunctions against Internet service providers (ISPs) requiring the ISPs to block access to pirate websites illegally streaming or making copyright material available for download.

The case arose out of a dispute in Austria between two movie companies and an Austrian ISP, UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH. The movie companies were concerned about access to an illegal streaming site, Kino.to, which was making copies of films such as Vicky the Viking and The White Ribbon available to its subscribers. The Austrian Supreme Court had asked the CJEU whether the movie companies were entitled under European law to seek an injunction against the ISP, not just against the illegal streaming site.

EU law allows holders of intellectual property rights to seek an injunction against any “intermediary” that provides services to third parties and, in doing so, helps them to infringe copyrighted works. The Austrian Supreme Court asked the CJEU for a ruling on whether ISPs in this position were considered to be an intermediary for the purposes of the European legislation.
Continue Reading The Umpire Strikes Back: European Court Rules That ISPs Can Be Forced to Block Pirate Websites

INTRODUCTION

This year, as the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, the Web’s founder, Tim Berners-Lee, has called for a fundamental reappraisal of copyright law.  By coincidence, this year we also anticipate a rash of UK and European legislative developments and court decisions centring on copyright and its application to the Web.

In our “Copyright: Europe Explores its Boundaries” series of posts—aimed at copyright owners, technology developers and digital philosophers alike—we will examine how UK and European copyright is coping with the Web and the novel social and business practices that it enables.
Continue Reading Copyright: Europe Explores its Boundaries: Part 1: Link Hubs

An aspiring actress moves to California and finds her life threatened. While standard fare for pulp fiction, the case of Garcia v. Google involves a twist on this well-worn plot line that not even the most imaginative Hollywood scriptwriter could invent.

Cindy Lee Garcia answered a casting call for a low-budget amateur movie with the working title Desert Warrior. The film’s writer and producer told her that it would be a “historical Arabian Desert adventure film.” Ms. Garcia received $500 for her performance in the film. It turns out the actress was misled by the producer, Mark Basseley Youssef (aka Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, aka Sam Bacile), a Coptic Christian from Egypt, who was reportedly working in conjunction with an American non-profit, Media for Christ. The filmmakers had no intention of making an adventure film; rather, the end product – titled Innocence of Muslims – is an anti-Islamic account of the Prophet Mohammed that many Muslims find highly offensive and blasphemous.

In July 2012, Mr. Youssef posted a 14-minute trailer of the film to YouTube, which is owned and operated by Google. Ms. Garcia appears for about five seconds in the trailer. The film overdubs her voice with lines she never actually spoke. In September 2012, an Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa against all involved in the film, calling on Muslims to “kill the director, the producer, and the actors and everyone who helped and promoted the film.” Ms. Garcia claims that she began to receive death threats and was forced to take precautionary measures at great expense to protect herself from retribution.

Sending takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Ms. Garcia demanded that Google remove all copies of the trailer from YouTube. Google declined to do so. In September 2012, Ms. Garcia sued Google, later also naming YouTube, asserting claims for copyright infringement. In October 2012, Ms. Garcia moved for a preliminary injunction, seeking to have Google take down all copies of the movie trailer from YouTube.
Continue Reading Google Ordered to Remove All Copies of Anti-Islamic Film From YouTube After Actress With Bit Part Threatened by Outraged Muslims; Decision Puzzles Copyright Attorneys

Mark Zuckerberg famously stated that the purpose of Facebook is “to make the world more open and connected,” and indeed Facebook, other social media outlets and the Internet in general have brought worldwide openness and connection-through-sharing to levels unparalleled at any point in history. With this new universe of limitless dissemination often comes the stripping

Last week­—the week of May 12, 2013­—proved to be an eventful week for Aereo.

On May 14, 2013, the controversial broadcast television streaming service filed a motion for summary judgment in the Southern District of New York on copyright claims brought by broadcast television networks (including ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) that Aereo’s service directly

It is well settled that Internet search engines’ reproduction of limited portions of copyrighted materials in order to direct Internet users to locations of original content constitutes “fair use” under the Copyright Act. (See, for example, Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc. and Kelly v. Arriba Soft.) But where is the line between, on