June 25, 2014 Last Updated 9:57 am

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Aereo in 6-3 decision; court rules cell phones are protected from searches without a warrant

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in three cases today including the case filed against Aereo by broadcasters. The court ruled that Aereo violated copyright laws by capturing broadcast signals on its antennas and then delivering them to subscribers.

in its ruling, the court liken Aereo to the cable companies, and as such, had no right to retransmit broadcasts without compensating the networks.

“Given Aereo’s overwhelming likeness to the cable companies targeted by the 1976 amendments, this sole technological difference between Aereo and traditional cable companies does not make a critical difference here,” the court said.

Later in the ruling, the same argument was made: “In terms of the Act’s purposes, these differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly. Viewed in terms of Congress’ regulatory objectives, why should any of these technological differences matter?”

The ruling went out of its way to make sure it only applied to this particular case, fearing that too broad a ruling might effect other cloud services and future technologies.

But for Aereo, it is a stinging defeat that strikes at the heart of the company’s business model.

Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented.


In another ruling, the court unanimously said that cell phones are generally protected from searches without a warrant. The case arises from a traffic stop where a driver was stopped for having expired registration tags. During the course of the traffic stop the police learned that the driver had a suspended license and impounded the driver’s car and found two handguns.

They also seized the driver’s cell phone and searched its contents without a warrant. Citing another case, the court said that “A search of the information on a cell phone bears little resemblance to the type of brief physical search considered in Robinson. We therefore decline to extend Robinson to searches of data on cell phones, and hold instead that officers must generally secure a warrant before conducting such a search.”

“Digital data stored on a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape,” the court said in its ruling. “Law enforcement officers remain free to examine the physical aspects of a phone to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon—say, to determine whether there is a razor blade hidden between the phone and its case. Once an officer has secured a phone and eliminated any potential physical threats, however, data on the phone can endanger no one.”

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