The US Supreme Court takes up a major case this week that could dramatically change how Americans watch television.
The case involves a New York-based company that charges $8 a month to allow subscribers to watch broadcast television programs on their computer, tablet, or smart phone via the Internet.
The company, Aereo, Inc., can keep its subscription price low in part because it pays nothing – zero – to the major broadcast companies for access to their programming.
The broadcast companies aren’t happy about it. They sued Aereo, claiming the little firm is stealing their copyright-protected programming and re-transmitting it to Aereo subscribers.
Lawyers for Aereo dispute the theft charge. They insist that the company is under no legal obligation to pay for network programming because that programming is offered free-of-charge to the public over public airwaves.
On Tuesday, the issue arrives for oral argument at the Supreme Court, where the justices will examine whether Aereo is violating terms of the federal Copyright Act or merely facilitating better antenna reception of freely-available broadcast signals for Aereo subscribers.