Copyright Office says Aereo doesn’t qualify for compulsory license

This file image provided by Aereo shows a streaming broadcast of Bob the Builder on the New York PBS station, WNET 13.
(Aereo / Associated Press)

Aereo may be out of ideas.

The U.S. Copyright Office said in its opinion that Aereo does not qualify for a compulsory license that would allow it to continue to stream content from local television stations.

Aereo had sought the license after the Supreme Court ruled that the start-up company, which streams the signals of local television signals over the Internet via remote antennas, violated Copyright Law.

In a 6-3 ruling last month, the Supreme Court compared Aereo to a cable system, which has to pay for transmitting copyrighted material. Aereo had argued that it was an antenna service and did not have to comply with copyright law.


Aereo said last week that since the Supreme Court basically declared it a cable system, that meant it was entitled to a compulsory license, which allows cable systems to transmit copyrighted material for a fee through the Copyright Office. The compulsory copyright is an umbrella that allows pay-TV distributors to avoid having to get permission from individual copyright holders for every piece of content they telecast.

In a letter to Aereo, the Copyright Office told Aereo that because it is not regulated as a cable system by the Federal Communications Commission, it does not qualify for the license. “We do not see anything in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in American Broadcasting Cos v. Aereo Inc. that would alter this conclusion.”

The FCC launched a proceeding in 2012 to determine whether services such as Aereo should be regulated as cable systems but as of yet there have been no rulings. If the FCC did find that so-called over-the-top services like Aereo were to be regulated as cable is, that would mean broadcasters could demand fees for carrying their TV stations.

The Copyright Office did say that because Aereo has also put the issue before federal court in New York, it will accept Aereo’s filings on a provisional basis.

“Aereo should be aware that, depending upon further regulatory or judicial developments, and/or based upon the Office’s own further review of the issue, the Office may subsequently determine that it is appropriate to take definitive action on Aereo’s filings, which could include rejection of the statements,” the letter said.

Aereo declined to comment.

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