By Sahil Patel
Down and out, maybe: The US Copyright Office has rejected Aereo’s bid to obtain a compulsory license to retransmit broadcast signals via its over-the-top streaming service. In other words, the US Copyright Office is saying Aereo can’t qualify itself as a cable company — at least not at the moment.
Once the Supreme Court ruled against Aereo in its long-running battle with TV broadcasters, the OTT service started out on a new legal strategy, under which it would be reclassified as a cable company just like any traditional multi-channel provider. This would then allow Aereo to transmit local signals and continue operating its business, as long as it paid broadcasters royalty fees (something which it had been fighting not to do).
In a ruling by the US Copyright Office, the group said the 1976 Copyright Act, which SCOTUS cited when it said that Aereo was “substantially” similar to a cable company, does not cover internet-based transmissions. In a letter to Aereo, the office’s general counsel Jacqueline Charlesworth said that this compulsory license is meant to serve “localized” services that are “regulated as cable systems by the FCC.”
So what’s next for the company? It needs the backing of a federal court ruling or for the FCC to review the matter. (The FCC has taken comments on a proposal to classify internet-based transmissions like a cable system, but it hasn’t made any rulings on it yet.) Until then, the Copyright Office said it would accept Aereo’s filing for royalty fees on a provisional basis, but won’t process the paperwork.
So it’s not completely over yet, but it’s getting close.