WASHINGTON (AP/WBEN) - Supreme Court justices are weighing whether they can side with broadcasters in a copyright challenge to an Internet startup company without threatening the burgeoning world of cloud computing.
The high court heard arguments Tuesday in the dispute between television broadcasters and Aereo Inc., which takes free television signals from the airwaves and allows subscribers to watch the programs on laptop computers, smart phones and other portable devices.
But isn't broadcast TV already free over-the-air? Why should Aereo's business matter?
"That's exactly the argument that the company makes," said CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "If you can buy an antenna and put it of your roof and get these signals for free, why shouldn't the company be able to essentially do that a thousand times over? It's essentially providing private performances to each individual consumer. That's clearly a question that the justices were struggling with."
Broadcasters say Aero is essentially stealing their programming by taking free television signals from the airwaves and sending them over the Internet without paying redistribution fees. Those fees are increasingly important to the broadcasters and were estimated at $3.3 billion last year.
Several justices expressed concern that a ruling for the broadcasters could hamper the continuing development of cloud computing, which gives users access to a vast online computer network that stores and processes information.
Justice Stephen Breyer said the prospect makes him nervous.
The case is the latest for Supreme Court justices who sometimes seem to struggle to stay on top of technological change. Can the public trust the court to make the right decision for tv's future? Cohen says you might be surprised.
"This is a pretty old crowd, but they ask smart questions. They were clearly up on what the legal ramifications are and what the new technologies are. With the exception of Justice Thomas, who never speaks at all, every single one of the justices had significant questions that they wanted to ask."