SAG-AFTRA Laughs High Court Copyright Ruling

NEW YORK –The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) lauded an important U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 26 that upheld federal copyright laws against a video recording service that grabbed programming off of networks and other providers and later sold it to customers for nominal fees.

SAG-AFTRA was one of several unions interested in ABC et al vs. Aereo.  The justices decided, 6-3, that the video recording service, Aereo, broke copyright laws by grabbing the programs without paying for them.  The justices said that by recording and retransmitting the programs, Aereo was producing them, too, and must pay copyright royalties.

The royalties were the key issue for SAG-AFTRA and other unions, which filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the networks.  The original producers of the programs – ABC, for example – use royalty revenue to pay program creators and performers their fees and residual income from rebroadcast of their works.  That’s how SAG-AFTRA’s members earn a living. 

Had Aereo won, the networks and other original program producers would have lost the copyright royalties – and so would the performers SAG-AFTRA represents.

“SAG-AFTRA applauds the Supreme Court’s decision, which sends a clear and strong message the court will not permit companies like Aereo to use inconsequential technical workarounds to evade Congress’ intent to protect content creators and owners in the Copyright Act,” the union said in a statement.

“By adopting a practical analysis that recognizes the extraordinary similarity between Aereo and the cable systems Congress expressly regulated in the (copyright) act,” in 1976 “the court rightly focuses on the use of copyrighted works and refused to be sidetracked by the inconsequential technical details with which Aereo attempted to cloak itself…This decision gives the creative community greater confidence that copyright law cannot be so simply evaded and restores the proper balance to the system.”