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Tiny Antennas Make Broadcasters Mad


On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc v. Aereo, Inc. This case pits an Internet startup against the behemoths of the broadcasting world. At the heart of the case is basically whether or not Aereo can continue to be in business.

Let’s start at the beginning. Aereo is an Internet based company offering over-the-air broadcast television streaming to you on a multitude of devices. Simply, you pay Aereo a monthly fee to use one of their tiny antennas (about the size of a dime) and their DVR service. Each individual antenna receives over-the-air broadcasts and you schedule which programs to record and watch later. You can also stream the over-the-air broadcasts live. Basically, Aereo allows you to watch already free television at your convenience.

The major broadcasters (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) don’t like what Aereo is doing. They feel Aereo’s business model violates US copyright law, specifically that they are retransmitting content without paying license fees. This is what the Supreme Court will have to decide. During oral arguments on Tuesday, the justices weren’t necessarily in Aereo’s corner, but they did express some worry that making a decision in favor of the broadcasters would have unintended consequences on current and future technology. The cloud computing and storage industry is particularly worried that a ruling in favor of the broadcasters could bring new legal liability on their businesses.

From what I’ve read, I’m in favor of Aereo. Their argument seems quite simple to me and I feel they are within the law. The broadcasters are not taking issue with an individual’s right to put up an antenna at their home and record over-the-air broadcasts with a DVR. They are taking issue with Aereo’s service doing this for individuals. Aereo claims, and lower courts have accepted, that each tiny antenna is operating independently and each person logged into the service and watching or recording is making use of a unique, independent antenna. I don’t see what the difference is between me setting up an antenna or Aereo setting up one for me and then streaming what is being received by the antenna. I guess we’ll find out in due time whether or not we’ll see Aereo come to the west coast or if they will simply disappear into the airwaves they are trying to harness.



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