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November 23, 2014

What Does the Aereo Case Mean for Other Tech Cases?

When the Supreme Court ruled that streaming-TV company Aereo violated the copyrights of major broadcasters, were the justices right in how they handled what this means for “other technological innovators”? Among the flurry of reactions and writings about the decision, at least a couple of them touch upon the question.

Reuters’ Alison Frankel writes : “This decision’s longer-lasting impact ought to be in educating other technological innovators about how to avoid copyright infringement — except that the majority was evidently so worried about inadvertently rendering future tech developments illegal that it completely avoided any such guidance.”

The American Enterprise Institute’s Tom Sydnor writes that the court “rejected many claims that a ruling against Aereo would necessarily ‘chill’ the development of cloud computing, head-end DVRs, and other technologically efficient products and services,” and that “the great advantage of adjudication is that it proceeds case-by-case and then derives broader rules of law from decided cases.”

Syndor was referring to this portion of the decision: “We agree with the Solicitor General that ‘[q]uestions involving cloud computing, [remote storage] DVRs, and other novel issues not before the Court, as to which ‘Congress has not plainly marked [the] course,’ should await a case in which they are squarely presented.”

But the open questions about what this means for cloud computing could lead to more litigation, said Center for Democracy and Technology’s general counsel David Sohn in his statement: “The stakes in this case went well beyond television. The court heard that message, and responded with an opinion that attempts to limit its application to TV. In doing that, however, the decision fails to provide much clarity regarding how future courts should analyze emerging technologies.”

“And while the decision doesn’t directly undermine cloud computing, it leaves open significant questions about the legal foundations of cloud-based services,” he said in his statement. “The full impact of today’s decision will take time, and possibly additional litigation, to sort out.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said that the ruling highlights why Congress should reexamine current law, although he focused on the Communications Act, not the 1976 copyright law that was at the heart of the Aereo case.

“While the court ruled that «Aereo» had overstepped, invention and innovation are at the heart of America’s global leadership in communications and technology development,” he said in a written statement. “This case underscores the mounting need to modernize the 80-year-old Communications Act, which serves as an important, yet outdated, framework for the communications industry.”

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