Television in America: The bandit of broadcast

CHET KANOJIA, the founder of Aereo, wonders which actor will play him, when Hollywood makes a film about his startup disrupting the television industry. “Probably a white guy,” Mr Kanojia, who is Indian-American, says drolly. Whether his firm will feature on the big screen or rapidly be forgotten depends on the outcome of a lawsuit between Aereo and America’s big free-to-air broadcast networks—such as ABC, CBS and Fox—which is being weighed by the Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case were heard on April 22nd and a decision is due within months.Mr Kanojia and Aereo are not yet household names, but are the subject of much debate among geeks, copyright lawyers and TV executives. Aereo picks up the signals of free-to-air channels and streams them to its subscribers over the internet, so they can watch them with the same good picture quality as they get via cable, but for a fraction of the average monthly cable bill. Each subscriber is assigned one of a huge number of thumbnail-sized aerials in Aereo’s warehouses. Aereo claims this is in principle no different—and thus no less legal—than the subscriber putting an antenna on his roof. But broadcast bosses see it differently. They say Aereo is violating copyright law by not paying them for a “public performance” of their content.So far Aereo is available in only 11 cities. But broadcasters worry that it threatens a fast-…

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