An Ongoing Court Case Threatens to Redefine Copyright Litigation

In the United States, copyright law protects the rights of the owners of copyrighted material to distribute the material and to profit from that distribution. A corollary of the protection afforded to copyright owners is the law’s ability to bar entities from distributing copyrighted material if they lack the legal permission to distribute it. Specifically, without ownership or permission, a company cannot legally “display [material] at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.”

Over the past two years, a legal battle between several large television networks, including ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC, and a popular streaming television subscription service named Aereo has been brewing. The television giants claim that since early 2012, Aereo, Inc., has broadcast copyrighted material from ABC, CBS, Disney, NBC, PBS and other networks via its digital subscription service. Unlike Netflix, Hulu and other content distributors, Aereo has not negotiated permission to distribute the material in question. The legal question is whether Aereo is improperly transmitting copyrighted material it does not own to the public by which “a substantial number of persons” can access it.

The method by which Aereo distributes material falls into a “gray area” that leaves the legality of its business model in question. This is because Aereo doesn’t provide content to thousands, hundreds or even dozens of individuals at a time. Instead, subscribers each use their own tiny antenna, located at an “antenna farm” owned by Aereo, and access the material they want on an individual basis. Due to this unique distribution method, Aereo claims it is not distributing material en masse. Instead, it is assisting individuals on a case-by-case basis to access material that TV stations “are already giving away for free over the air.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is now in the process of reviewing this lawsuit and the stakes are high; if Aereo wins, other providers may enter the market and further dilute the rights of the owners of copyrighted material from controlling how the material is distributed. Copyright owners argue that without control over copyrighted material, the incentive to create material may decrease.

If you are a performer, author, musician or other artist in the Miami or South Florida and have questions regarding the protection of your copyrighted material, contact Manos & Associates, P.L. We have handled cases involving ever-changing trademark and copyright laws for more than 30 years and can provide effective and knowledgeable legal help. To contact us, call 305-341-3100.