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Hearst Takes Aims at Aereo in Boston

Claims ‘Free-Rider’ Is Violating Copyright by Retransmitting WCVB’s TV Signal 7/10/2013 6:47 AM Eastern

Hearst Stations Inc., the owner of the WCVB-TV ABC affiliate in Boston, has brought the fight to Aereo in the form of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, a move that comes almost two months after Aereo launched its broadband TV/cloud DVR service in Boston.

Similar to the broadcaster-led suits Aereo faces in New York, Hearst claims that Aereo is violating copyright rules and harming Hearst's business by retransmitting WCVB’s TV signal without permission and without compensating Hearst.

“Aereo has no right, under any license or statute, to retransmit WCVB’s copyrighted programming,” Hearst claimed in the suit (GigaOm has posted a copy of it here). “Other companies, such as cable, satellite and other telecommunications distributors obtain the consent of SCVB and pay WCVB to retransmit WCFB’s signal containing its programming… Aereo further free-rides on WCVB’s substantial investment in its broadcasting infrastructure.”

Aereo declined to comment on the Hearst lawsuit. With respect to the lawsuits pending in New York, Aereo has previously argued that it is not violating copyright laws because it is simply providing remote access to the free over-the-air signals its subscribers are entitled to.

Aereo uses an array of thumb-sized antennas to capture free over-the-air digital TV signals and streams them to customers via the Internet.  The Aereo service, which includes a cloud DVR, starts at $8 per month.  

Aereo currently offers the service in Boston, New York City, and Atlanta, with Chicago scheduled to go live on September 13. Aereo plans to launch service later this year in several more markets, including Minneapolis; Madison, Wis.; Cleveland; Providence, R.I.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Salt Lake City; Denver; Kansas City; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.;  Austin, Houston and Dallas, Texas; Tampa and Miami, Fla.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Detroit.

Some broadcasters, notably Fox, have threatened to pursue a cable-only deliver model if Aereo wins the court battle underway in New York, where the broadcasters are currently seeking en banc (full court) re-hearing by the Second Circuit federal appeals court of the decision by a three-judge panel of that court not to prevent Aereo from streaming TV stations signals while a district court weighs the broadcasters’ challenge to that service.

September