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What's the problem?

24 April 2014

There's a very interesting court case taking place in the USA at present.

Aereo is a company that effectively plucks free-to-air TV broadcasts from the air and makes them available as a video stream to its customers.

The broadcasters are crying foul but Aereo says it's not breaching anyone's copyright because it's simply delivering a service that does exactly the same thing as connecting a TV receiver to someone's computer.

When you think about it... Aereo has a pretty strong case and it's hard to see why the broadcasters aren't happy that their programmes (and ads) are reaching a wider audience thanks to this service.

It's hard to see how simply extending the range of a TV broadcast in this way constitutes any loss to the broadcaster -- indeed, most broadcasters are spending large sums of money to set up their own streaming services because they know that a growing percentage of their audience wants to view video content on phones, tablets and other computing devices.

When first challenged over its service Aereo responded by creating a *huge* array of antennas, effectively creating a one-to-one relationship between streams and content being received via broadcast. This strategy was designed to counter the assertion by broadcasters that the company was "copying" its material by virtue of hooking a single receiver/antenna up to multiple streams.

It seemed as if the US courts were going to accept that scenario but now the broadcasters have taken the matter to the Supreme Court.

Aereo is now arguing that they're not selling or providing any content at all through their service. They are simply renting the hardware needed to connect those broadcasts to a users' digital devices via a Net-based stream.

The company goes further and states that if its service is deemed to be a breach of copyright laws then all cloud services will be in jeopardy -- the premise being that in order for someone to access material via the cloud, a *copy* must be made in order to deliver that download.

Obviously the courts are going to be dealing with the semantics of the argument -- but what about the bigger picture?

If you are entitled (encouraged even) to watch a free-to-air broadcast by putting up an antenna and connecting it to your TV set then what is the issue with using a service that provides the antenna and receiver -- allowing you to simply connect your iPad or smartphone to the resulting data-stream?

How does the transient rental of such equipment at a remote location, as is the case with the Aereo service, any different to renting a set-top box that might sit in your own home and deliver the same service?

Why are the broadcasters arguing that the former is illegal but the latter is not?

Should a few Km or hundreds of Km of copper or fiber really make any difference?

These are the type of problems that the courts will increasingly have to deal with, as smart people come up with clever products and services that were never anticipated when copyright law was originally created or subsequently reviewed.

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