Will Lawsuits Make Aereo's Free Cloud TV DOA?

Illustration for article titled Will Lawsuits Make Aereo's Free Cloud TV DOA?

Just two weeks after Aero opened up shop, a few broadcast TV networks are already trying get the cloud-based TV service shut down in the courts. ABC, PBS, and Univision are amongst a group of companies suing to prevent Aereo from letting you capture the airwaves.

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There have been questions about Aereo's legality from the start, and now it's getting a test. So far at least two groups of broadcasters have filed complaints against Aereo. The fundamental question at play? Can Aereo capture free TV from the air for you like a DVR and then post it to the internet so that you can watch it from your computer, your phone, or anywhere else, without violating copyright law.

It's a weird idea, yes, but as PaidContent reports, as long as you're the one capturing the airwaves, and Aereo only serves the role of making them available to you—the $12/month cloud service has some chance of surviving the courts. The networks, obviously disagree:

In their complaint against Aereo, the broadcasters argue, "It simply does not matter whether Aereo uses one big antenna to receive Plaintiffs' broadcasts ... or ‘tons' of ‘tiny' antennas .. No amount of technological gimmickry by Aereo or claims of sophisticated ‘rabbit ears' change the fundamental principle of copyright."

Aero has already responded, saying that consumers have the right to do this by themselves, and that they're only acting as an intermediary. This is one of those funny cases that tests how the laws of the analog land translate to the digital world. Let's hope it falls on the side of consumers. [PaidContent]

DISCUSSION

This seems reeeeally dicey to me. At first I thought it worked like a Slingbox- you capture the signal and sent it to yourself- but this seems like it qualifies as a "rebroadcast" by a third party- for money, they capture the signal on their equipment and rebroadcast it to you - i.e. "any rebroadcast without the permission of the National Football League is prohibited". Sounds awesome but legally dubious. What would be the difference between this service and offering a similar service whereby a company recorded OTA broadcasts onto VHS tapes or DVDs and and sent them to you? Is it the fact that there is no physical copy? It seems like a great idea... but I'll be interested to see the rationale for how it's legal.