Exactly What That Supreme Court Aereo Ruling Means For Your TV-Streaming Habits

Your options for online streaming television got a little narrower Wednesday morning, when the Supreme Court ruled against TV-streaming provider Aereo, siding with TV broadcasters in a pivotal decision for the industry. Aereo had been locked in various legal disputes over its service basically from its inception in 2012 onward, and it's not hard to understand why — in function, it granted users an end-around on paying money directly to broadcasters, and Aereo themselves weren't paying fees, either. But now, thanks to a rare 6-3 ruling (with Justice Stephen Breyer siding with the Court's typical conservative majority), those days are over.

This ruling could potentially prove consequential for other areas of video streaming, and if, you're an Aereo user, you'd probably like to know what this decision means for your service of choice. Plus, if you're really enthusiastic about television broadcast networks — which you're probably not, let's face it — maybe you'd just like to revel in outcome. Anyway, here's exactly what you need to know about what the ruling means for the future of Internet-streamed television...

What Was The Case About?

In simplest terms, this case boiled down to money. Specifically whether or not Aereo, which allowed users to watch TV in nearly-live time, was on the hook to pay retransmission fees to the broadcasters whose content they were streaming. Aereo had devised a sort of middleman system of providing the content, which they'd hoped would shield them from this outcome, operating a massive antenna farm which allowed users to tap into their desired signal.

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Aereo insisted that each antenna only provided streams for individual people, and that when a user selected a stream to watch, their content would run through just one of the antennas. In other words, the user was effectively just renting an antenna from the company, and telling it what to stream. As such, they argued that they weren't providing a "public performance" — the crucial phrase in all this — and shouldn't be responsible for paying out to the broadcasters.

The broadcasters, conversely, had a pretty simple outlook on the matter — tons of people were watching their stuff without them seeing any profit off of it, while Aereo was, and they weren't happy. Six Supreme Court justices ultimately agreed with the networks.

What Does The Ruling Do to Aereo?

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Aereo is dead. Stake through the heart, poison in the coffee, retransmission fees in the business model — all just fancy ways of saying that they're essentially no more. Normally this wouldn't be quite so clear, as any company can try to reform or rebuild, but the doomsaying in this case came straight from Aereo higher-ups, who admitted that victory for the broadcasters would mean the death of their brand. As CEO Chet Kanojia told The Verge : "If it’s a total straight-up loss, then it’s dead. We’re done."

Obviously ,there could be a second act for the Aereo name, and the assets it still has at its disposal, but whatever that second act would be will resemble nothing like what it once was. Those days are now firmly in the rear-view mirror. You can look at the entire ruling here.

What Else Does This Mean For You?

Hopefully nothing, though the consequences aren't always crystal clear. As TechCrunch notes, the argument the broadcasters used to achieve this end is somewhat radical by existing standards: They claimed that Aereo users were not committing an individual, private act, but were engaged in an act of public viewing.

That argument — getting the court to view an individual stream's legality as part of a broader, collective behavior — is a change in terms that could have wide-ranging implications for could computing and download servers. For the time being, however, the court is mum on that point, with the majority opinion stating as follows:

... we have not considered whether the public performance right is infringed when the user of a service pays primarily for something other than the transmission of copyrighted works, such as the remote storage of content.

So, in other words, this shouldn't have any impact on your Dropbox, but nothing is sure, either. The court declined to consider that question in this ruling, but if it comes up again in a future case, what they ultimately decide is still anybody's guess.