Having failed to convince the Supreme Court 30 years ago that allowing people to record TV shows on video cassettes constituted copyright infringement, the major TV networks are back in court protesting another technology they say threaten their bottom line. At issue is a company called Aereo that takes television signals from out of the airways and send them to the Internet to be accessed by paying customers.

For eight dollars a month, customers get access to two dozen or so local over the air stations plus the Bloomberg TV financial channel. The service is available in New York, Boston, Houston and Atlanta, among other cities, and is due to expand soon. Subscribers are able to watch their favorite shows on laptops, tablets, and smart phones anywhere they happen to be. They are able to either watch it live or record it for viewing later on their devices.

TV networks, which are beginning to rely on revenues derived from these types of rebroadcasts, are demanding that Aereo pay for the privilege, much like cable and satellite TV systems are obliged to. Aereo’s position is that the transmissions are free over the air and therefore can be picked up and replayed at will, but like a recording on a video cassette or a modern DVR.

The federal appeals court in New York has ruled that Aereo is not guilty of copyright infringement, citing the precedence of a 2008 decision concerning Cablevision Systems that offered a similar service. The question ultimately comes down to whether the subscriber is using his or her device much like a DVR or whether the service is more like an cable system. Very likely the U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide.

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