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US backs broadcasters’ fight to shut Aereo down

Aereo Inc. drew a new opponent to its business of streaming television shows over the Web without the express permission of broadcasters: the US government.

On Monday, the Justice Department filed legal arguments backing television broadcasters that have sued to stop Aereo from using its arrays of tiny antennas to capture and stream over-the-air broadcast signals to subscribers.

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In filings leading up to April 22 oral arguments before the US Supreme Court, the Justice Department said it weighed in because of the implications the case has on laws dealing with intellectual property and the Internet.

Government lawyers said that Aereo, like others in the TV business, must obtain permission to use the copyrighted content of broadcasters.

Aereo is based in New York, but most of its employees are in Boston, at engineering offices near South Station.

The company charges subscribers $8 a month to get over-the-air television shows that are captured by dime-size antennas and redirected to computers and mobile devices. Available in 13 cities, including Boston, Aereo includes a remotely accessed DVR service.

Broadcast networks, including ABC, Fox, NBC, and CBS, accuse Aereo of stealing their content. In a series of lawsuits stemming back to early 2012, they argue that Aereo could wreck havoc with their businesses by leading cable providers to stop paying billions in annual fees to license broadcast content.

In one case, a US District Court judge in Massachusetts in October rejected a request by WCVB, a Needham-based ABC affiliate, to shut down Aereo in the Boston area.

An Aereo spokesman declined to comment on the Justice Department’s filing.

The company contends its service is legally equivalent to a consumer’s catching broadcast signals with an antenna of his own. The process has just been moved online, chief executive and cofounder Chet Kanojia has said.

Aereo also argues that a win for broadcasters would dismantle the legal precedent that helped create the cloud computing industry. Google and Facebook are among the technology companies that are backing Aereo in the Supreme Court case.

But the Justice Department disputes that aspect of Aereo’s argument, saying that a loss for the company “need not threaten the legality of cloud computing.”

Founded in 2009, Aereo has raised $97 million to develop and expand its service. Investors include Highland Capital Partners, which has a Cambridge office, and IAC, a New York firm headed by the media mogul Barry Diller.

Kanojia, the CEO, had previously founded Waltham-based Navic Networks, which Microsoft acquired in 2008.

Kyle Alspach can be reached at Kyle.Alspach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylealspach and at betaboston.com.
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