In a closely watched case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 6-3 decision that Aereo’s Internet streaming service engages in unauthorized public performances of broadcast television programs in violation of the Copyright Act, reversing the Second Circuit’s decision in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. (No. 13-461).

In ruling against Aereo, the Court sought to limit its decision to Aereo’s service—which the Court considered to be “equivalent” to that of a traditional cable company—and noted that it was not addressing the legality of cloud storage lockers, remote-storage DVRs and other emerging technologies.  But the Court’s interpretation of the public performance right in the context of Aereo’s technology will nevertheless influence future decisions on whether the transmission of content using other technology constitutes copyright infringement.

Background

Aereo provides broadcast television streaming and recording services to its subscribers, who can watch selected programing on various Internet-connected devices, including smart televisions, computers, mobile phones and tablets.  Aereo provides its service through individual, “dime-sized” antennas that pick up local television broadcast signals and transmit those signals to an Aereo server where individual copies of programs embedded in such signals are created and saved to the directories of those 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 earlier Supreme Court decisions that had allowed cable companies to retransmit broadcast television signals without compensating copyright owners.

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 that 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 emanated from a unique copy of a program that 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.  
Continue Reading Supreme Court Stifles Aereo, but Tries to Keep the Cloud Away

The doctrine of laches cannot be invoked as a bar to a plaintiff’s claim for damages brought within the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations period, according to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. The Court, in a 6-3 decision, held that Congress prescribed a specified period in which a copyright holder can recover damages for infringement and, “[t]o the extent that an infringement suit seeks relief solely for conduct occurring within the limitations period . . . courts are not at liberty to jettison Congress’ judgment on the timeliness of suit.” A laches defense is still viable, however, to bar equitable relief “in extraordinary circumstances” and as a factor at the remedial stage. As a result of this decision, copyright holders who previously refrained from pursuing an infringement action could be invigorated to bring suit, and businesses should be mindful that relying on a copyright holder’s prior inaction will not bar a future copyright infringement suit, regardless of how much time or money was invested into the allegedly infringing activity. In addition, the Court’s decision raises questions regarding the applicability of a laches defense to other laws with statutory limitations periods—including patent law.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Finds Laches Does Not Bar Copyright Infringement Claim: Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

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 analyze a groundbreaking FTC complaint alleging deceptive practices online that could turn website Terms of Use into federal law; we summarize

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