An obscure Internet start-up is roiling the television industry with an old-school technology: the antenna.
The start-up, Aereo, uses thousands of tiny antennas to capture broadcast television programs, then converts the shows into online video streams for subscribers in 11 cities.
What Aereo does not do is pay licensing fees to the broadcast networks that produce the programs. And that has put Aereo at the center of a debate over the reach of copyright laws, the accessibility of public airwaves and the future of television.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a civil case filed against the two-year-old private firm by ABC, CBS, NBC and other major broadcasters alleging that Aereo is no different from cable and satellite firms that are required to pay hefty fees to rebroadcast their shows.
Quite simply, Aereo takes copyrighted material, profits from it and does so without compensating copyright holders, said Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Aereo argues that it is entitled to draw freely from programs transmitted on public airwaves. If successful, the argument has the potential to blow apart the expensive channel bundles that have been forced on American cable consumers and to radically reduce the cost of watching television.
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