Aereo Ruling

Points to Need for Awareness

Of All IP Rights

Recently, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision in ABC v. Aereo  Inc. The decision was a copyright case, but highlights the interesting interplay between copyrights and patents that many companies may be unaware photo 8.22.14

Briefly, the Supreme Court said Aereo violated broadcasters’ copyrights by selling programming online without paying licensing fees, and said it did so regardless of the nature of the cloud technology that it was using. Specifically, Aereo collects signals “over-the-air” through antennas, stores the resulting video on servers, and delivers the live or recorded programs to customers via the internet.

Instead of fully protecting the burgeoning computer-storage industry, the court took care to sidestep the issue of how copyright laws affect services such as Inc. and Dropbox Inc. when users download videos and documents. The ruling said that questions involving cloud computing — the business of storing content on remote servers and delivering it over the Internet — should “await a case in which they are squarely presented.” That leaves technology companies with few clues to guess whether their services would pass legal muster if challenged.

Not surprisingly, several companies were anxious about what the court would rule. Well established providers such as Amazon and Dropbox use similar cloud-based technology to provide content to their subscribers. However, the court’s decision was narrow, and largely limited to “where the user … pays primarily for something other than the transmission of copyrighted works, such as the remote storage of a content.” Observers surmise that digital content delivery services such as cloud based storage and digital video recorder (DVR) technologies should not be directly affected.

Interestingly, this case also highlights the necessary but often overlooked link between patent and other IP rights. Many cloud computing companies protect their distribution platforms via patents, which have long been seen as giants among the various intellectual property rights. Seldom do they think about the ramifications of other areas of intellectual property, such as copyright. Aereo, for example, has been actively seeking patent protection, filing over 14 patent applications since 2010. Clearly, they were aware of the utility of IP rights in one arena, but have been caught unaware in another. Hopefully, this case highlights not only the need for patent protection, but the need for awareness of the full gamut of IP protection.