The Electronic Frontier Foundation is backing startup Aereo, which is embroiled in court with broadcasters and television networks over copyright issues.
The digital rights group urged a federal appeals court on Friday to throw out the case, which is designed to shut down Aereo's streaming services. Aereo offers consumers the means to stream broadcast television, sent through the Internet to a customer's devices via tiny antennas currently hosted on a Brooklyn rooftop. Each "rabbit ear" is assigned to an individual user, who can then choose which signals should be transmitted to mobile devices.
Broadcasters and television networks, including ABC, Fox, Univision, Disney, CBS, and NBC, argue that Aereo should be treated like a cable system and therefore be liable for broadcasting fees. [Disclosure: CNET News is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.]
In contrast, Aereo and the EFF says the streaming service, backed by IAC Chairman Barry Diller, does not infringe on broadcaster rights.
"Just because Aereo's system sends TV signals to customers doesn't mean that Aereo needs permission from the broadcasters," EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz said in a statement. "Personal TV transmissions don't violate copyright -- it's a private use that copyright law doesn't reach. This is just a craven attempt by TV executives to profit from technology that they didn't think of first."
"Broadcasters have exclusive use of a scarce public resource -- the airwaves -- and that privilege carries with it a responsibility to serve the public. Obviously, the public benefits by having alternative ways to enjoy TV content," EFF intellectual property director Corynne McSherry added.
Earlier legal battles in New York quashed the broadcasters' campaign to shut Aereo down. However, the networks appealed the decision.