Consumer Advocates Side With Aereo Against TV Networks

The digital rights groups Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge are siding with Barry Diller's online video start-up Aereo in its dispute with the TV networks. In court papers filed today, the groups asked U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan in New York to deny the networks' request for a preliminary injunction shuttering the start-up.

"Although Aereo is the defendant, this case is in fact about the right of individuals -- Aereo’s customers and ultimately all residents of the U.S. -- to watch free local broadcast television with the technology of their choosing," the groups argue in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The dispute dates to March, when Aereo launched a $12 monthly service that allows people to watch over-the-air TV shows on iPhones, iPads, Roku and other devices. Shortly before launching, Aereo installed thousands of antennas, each the size of a dime, in various New York locales. Aereo uses those antennas to capture over-the-air broadcasts, creates individual recordings of them for customers' personal use, and then allows customers to play back those recordings with a remote digital video recorder.

Aereo argues it need not pay licensing fees because it's only enabling activity that consumers can do for free -- that is, to install antennas, receive TV transmissions, and time-shift with remote DVRs. To make this argument, Aereo draws heavily on a 2008 ruling that endorsed Cablevision's remote DVRs.

The TV networks disagree with Aereo's interpretation. Among other arguments, they argue that the pro-Cablevision ruling only applies to technology that allows people to time-shift programs to the same set-top box where they can watch the real-time broadcast.

The EFF and Public Knowledge take issue with the TV networks on that point. "A copyright owner has no greater rights when a viewer watches a baseball game on portable TV from a park bench than when he watches on his living-room TV," the groups argue.

The industry group NetCoalition also weighed in this week, arguing that a broadly worded ruling in favor of the TV broadcasters could put the legality of cloud computing in doubt.

NetCoalition -- made up of Amazon, Bloomberg, IAC (which didn't participate in preparing the court papers), Google, Wikipedia, and Yahoo -- says it isn't siding with Aereo or the TV broadcasters. Instead, the group is urging Nathan to clarify that consumers are allowed to use remote storage systems to ensure that their content will be available on more than one device.

"The very reason that consumers use remote storage or backup systems is to ensure that their content will be available to them on multiple devices when they travel away from their local storage devices or when those devices catastrophically fail."

Recommend (4)
3 comments about "Consumer Advocates Side With Aereo Against TV Networks".
  1. John Grono from GAP Research , May 24, 2012 at 2:18 a.m.
    One thing strikes me as odd. But it could just be that I'm an Aussie. The article says "this case is in fact about the right of individuals -- Aereo’s customers and ultimately all residents of the U.S. -- to watch free local broadcast television". But doesn't Aereo charge $12 per month to watch "free television". Isn't charging someone an amount for what is free just a tad rich?
  2. Richard Lyons from PVP , May 24, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.
    The old guard is waking up to the second screen and need to work out how to utilize it fast. Networks are quickly putting more of their content online not only to stop it from being pirated but also to reach younger viewers whom advertisers covet. .... Barry Diller's tiny antennas or Cable companies direct feeds or TV Station direct website programs connected worldwide or national IP companies cloud distribution will all need to be address by the FCC, in a much bigger way than a re-distribution copyright fees. .... The networks should support local IP/OTA content by their local TV Stations and a national IP site for local OTA broadcasters (one online site to select your channel from, just like your current home TV set works). … Around 1930 OTA (Over the Air) TV Policy was Telecom Act (FCC): In the public interest, to secure a license and be entrusted with the scarce national resource known as spectrum broadcasters were obligated to offer local, educational and political programming, make it widely available to rich and poor alike and track their efforts through ascertainment to win renewal. .... There is no equivalent national IP policy because there is no equivalent scarcity of resources held by the public trust. … Later, cable came along and MVPD (multichannel video program distributors) proceeding for “Must-carry rules” Communication Act and now, a TV stations choose must-carry or retransmission fee. In any case, the copyright of the TV Station was extended to the cable company and later to DISH and DirecTV. Rich Lyons 818 516 0544
  3. Dan Auito from Next Century Studios , May 26, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
    Disintermediation will continue until further notice. Once WIFI blankets all major viewing areas, major networks and cable providers will find that the internet will basically deliver everything for free on demand 24/7 365. Aereo is a temporary distraction in the big scheme of things. Dan Auito COO www.ncs.tv