The End of Free TV?
Some tech pundits are hysterically claiming that cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Carbonite, and Google Drive may be exposed to ruinous legal liability if the U. S. Supreme Court rules against Aereo in a copyright infringement case. Others say it's the end of free TV, if Aereo wins. Learn more about Aereo, and its legal battle with TV broadcasters...
What's All the Fuss About Aereo?
Aereo is a service that records local over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasts, and streams them (either live or on-demand) to your PC, tablet or smartphone. If you have a Roku or Apple TV box, you can even stream to your TV.
Basically, it makes your local TV stations available in a cloud-based DVR, and lets you watch those shows when and where you want. You pay $8/month, and no cable subscription is required. The service is available in 11 US metro areas, with plans to expand to many other cities. But only if the Supreme Court rules in such a way that allows them to stay in business...
Aereo is trying to take advantage of an apparent loophole in copyright law. Consumers are permitted to record free over-the-air TV broadcasts for their personal, non-commercial use. Aereo rents to consumers the use of antennas, data center storage space, and other infrastructure to do this, and provides access to stored content via the Internet. The company claims its business model is not prohibited by copyright law.
The production studios and broadcast networks beg to differ. They argue that Aereo is recording copyright-protected content and reselling it to consumers without paying license fees to the copyright holders. Producers get no revenue from Aereo, and broadcasters are placed at a competitive disadvantage because they must pay producers for the right to rebroadcast TV content.
Is Aereo's Business Model Legal?
Aereo has argued that what it does is no different from what many other cloud storage services do. If that is the case, then a ruling against Aereo would implicate a wide range of other cloud services in copyright infringement. That’s what has the pundits and some cloud industry execs clutching their pearls. But the worry-warts seem to have forgotten the law, or are ignoring it to bolster Aereo’s case and open a whole new market for themselves.
Dropbox, et. al., are protected against claims of contributory copyright infringement by the Digital Millenium Copyright act’s “safe harbor” provision. Essentially, that provision assumes that the storage service had nothing to do with the creation of an infringing copy of a work, and so the storage service should be held blameless if it takes prompt action to remove infringing works from its servers when copyright owners complain.
But Aereo has everything to do with the creation of the copies stored on its servers; that is a significant distinction. It is not charging just for storage and access; it is charging for the capability to make a recording. If Dropbox storage service included the ability to make copies of copyright-protected software, music, etc., then Dropbox would be liable for contributory copyright infringement (even if the resulting illegal copy was not stored on Dropbox).
That leaves Aereo with the argument that it’s perfectly legal for consumers to record free TV and store their recordings wherever they wish: on their own at-home servers, in a safety deposit box, or on Aereo’s servers with the ability to access their recordings via the Internet. It certainly shouldn’t be illegal to help someone perform a legal act, even if you charge $8 a month for your help.
Winners, Losers and Unintended Consequences
Even the Justices seemed bemused by these conflicting perspectives during oral arguments on Tuesday. “What disturbs me on the other side is I don’t understand what the decision for you or against you when I write it is going to do to all kinds of other technologies,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said.
A win for Aereo would be good for consumers, in the short run. In the long run, it might be bad for consumers if TV producers have less financial incentive to produce content or if broadcasters drop free over-the-air broadcasting. Already, some networks have announced intentions to move to subscription-based cable channels rather than compete against “pirates” like Aereo.
Will Aereo win and ruin the free TV party for everyone? Or should the Supremes shut them down? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 29 Apr 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- The End of Free TV? (Posted: 29 Apr 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved