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Digital TV Startup Aereo May Wind Up in the Supreme Court

Digital TV Startup Aereo May Wind Up in the Supreme Court
Image credit: John R. Coughlin/CNN Money

Legal arguments against Aereo, a tech startup that makes it possible for consumers to watch unauthorized digital streams of broadcast programming, may reach the U.S. Supreme Court. This move comes after lower courts gave Aereo the green light to continue allowing this type of streaming, even after broadcasters cried foul. Broadcasters plan to petition the nation's highest court sometime in the next few days, Variety reports.

Founded in 2011, New York City-based Aereo launched its service in March of last year, aiming to change the way people access and watch TV programming. Aereo uses internet-connected antennas to capture broadcast signals and make them available to paying users on any type of device.

For months now, big broadcasters -- including NBC Universal, ABC and Fox -- have been trying to shut Aereo down, claiming that it is stealing and reselling their programming. Aereo doesn't pay broadcasters for their content. It argues its antennas are legally akin to the ones people already use to watch TV in their own homes.

To date, it seems that courts are siding with the startup. In July 2012, a New York federal judge refused to grant an injunction to stop Aereo from operating. And the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied broadcasters' request to reconsider the decision of the lower court.

Related: TV Startup Aereo Countersues Big Broadcaster

Today, a judge in Boston issued a similar ruling in favor of Aereo. "Today's decision makes clear that there is no reason that consumers should be limited to 1950s technology to access over-the-air broadcast television," said Chet Kanojia, Aereo's founder and chief executive, in a statement.

In Washington and Los Angeles, however, district court judges found in favor of broadcasters in cases brought against Film On X, a startup similar to Aereo. Film On X appealed the lower court's decision, but it remains to be seen how the appellate court for the Ninth Circuit will decide. A finding that conflicts with the Second Circuit might persuade the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

On the heels of these legal developments comes the announcement today that Aereo will release its first Android app later this month. Currently the service is not available for Android users, though it is accessible via the web on desktop computers and laptops.

"At Aereo, we believe consumers should have more choice and control over how they watch television and a big part of that is expanding the universe of devices that they can use to access Aereo's technology," Kanojia said in a news release.

Until now, Kanojia said, the company had focused on expanding its geographical reach. So far, Aereo's service is available in seven U.S. cities, including New York, Miami, Atlanta and Dallas.

Related: 3 Tips for Doing Deals With Big Companies

Brian Patrick Eha is a freelance journalist and former assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com. He is writing a book about the global phenomenon of Bitcoin for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be published in 2015.

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