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Highly Anticipated SCOTUS Decision Keeps Copyright Law Technology-Neutral

In a 6-3 decision hailed by copyright proponents and the creative industries, the Supreme Court held today that Aereo, a subscription service that allows users to watch television programs over the Internet mere seconds after they are actually broadcast, violates copyright holders’ exclusive right to “publicly perform” those programs.

The case, American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, was brought by a coalition of television networks and other industry groups. But the decision resonates beyond the broadcasting industry, reinforcing the bedrock copyright principle that authors and other rightsholders are entitled to compensation for uses of their works.

Copyright Alliance CEO Sandra Aistars released a statement applauding the Court for keeping copyright law “technology-neutral” and not favoring new technologies at the expense of new works of art—and those who create them. “Rather than innovating to design the best technology,” Aistars wrote, “Aereo was investing its resources to pay lawyers to devise schemes to capitalize on perceived loopholes in the law.” That sentiment ought to ring bells for anyone following the Authors Guild v. Google litigation.

The majority opinion, penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, was heavily influenced by Congress’ clear intent that original broadcasters be compensated for cable retransmissions under the current Copyright Act. The Court was also careful to emphasize the limited nature of its holding, particularly its belief that the decision should not discourage “the emergence or use of different kinds of technology.”

For the television industry, the decision is without doubt a relief. And for authors? A signal that at least one court in the land hasn’t given up on the Constitutionally-enshrined idea that those who invest in creation ought to be compensated when their works are used for others’ profit.