Mixed signals: After Supreme Court calls Aereo a cable company, US Copyright Office says it's not
Aereo just can't catch a break.
The "world's most ridiculous startup," which makes on-air television broadcasts available to stream over the Internet, has been told by the US Copyright Office that it does not qualify as a "cable company" and therefore has no right to the compulsory licenses required to distribute that content. This comes less than a month after the US Supreme Court told Aereo the opposite: that because it is effectively behaving as a cable company, its transmissions are in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976.
This gives Aereo few options as it continues to fight for its very survival. In a last ditch effort following the Supreme Court ruling, Aereo embraced its position as a cable company, despite spending the previous weeks arguing that it is not a cable system. Between the Supreme Court and the Copyright Office, Aereo has basically become the Schrodinger's Cat of startups: both a cable company and not a cable company at the same time.
While the US Copyright Office did not deny Aereo's filings outright, under the rationale that its court case is still ongoing, this appears to be a fittingly absurd end to an absurd product. On one hand, because Aereo behaves like a cable company, its retransmissions violate copyright laws. On the other hand, because the Copyright Office ruled that retransmitting broadcast television over the Internet does not make you a cable company, it is barred from paying for the license needed to avoid running afoul of those same copyright laws. It's a classic paradox straight out of "Catch-22."
The next steps for Aereo, if there are any left, are unclear. The company declined to comment on the ruling to CNBC, which broke the news, adding merely that the Copyright Office did provisionally accept its application -- though, again, it only did so because its court case hasn't been settled yet. Theoretically, that buys Aereo some time to figure out some clever legal finagling in order to perpetuate its existence. But with opposition coming from the courts, the cable industry, and now the Copyright Office, this may be the final chapter in Aereo's long strange trip.