Furthering the perception that the Supreme Court and those in power are out of touch with the realities of technology and innovation, the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling against the streaming TV service Aereo for violating the copyrights of broadcasters. This ruling rests on the mistaken interpretation that Aereo functions like a cable company, and thus must be a cable company when it comes to copyright law.
TV companies including CBS, NBC, and ABC took issue with Aereo charging customers $8-$12 to stream broadcast channels to their mobile devices without paying the channels re-transmission fees like cable companies do. Aereo established a very convoluted system to route around the understood copyright law. Aereo provided a micro-antenna for every individual user which was used to capture over-the-air video for streaming. This antenna functioned the same way rabbit ear antenna would work on your home television set, only this antenna was found miles away. The only channels available were ones already using the public airwaves, which are freely available without charge for anyone using their own antenna. The crux of Aereo’s business model stemmed from the Cablevision ruling that permitted Cablevision to offer a remote DVR service which functioned exactly like a personal DVR, except the hard drive was located outside your home.
For technologists, Aereo basically provided the same product of television, only with a really long cable. Because current copyright is so complicated and convoluted, their system for offering this service seemed complicated and convoluted. The Supreme Court seemed to take issue at how much Aereo attempted to cirvumvent copyright law with its technology, ignoring that avoiding breaking the law does make you guilty of breaking that law. The court says Aereo possesses an “overwhelming likeness” to cable companies, establishing the “Looks like a Duck” legal test for how to treat new technology.
The fallout of this ruling will be a stifling of innovation. TV companies have not been eager to innovate, either through new business models or new technology that makes the experience better (such as suing over the aforementioned DVR in its many iterations). Because the court’s ruling ignores what the technology does instead judging it for what they understand presents a cloud of uncertainty around new technology and startups. The ruling itself seems to desperately try to say it will not apply to other cloud technologies, but without providing a useful legal test for the rapidly growing sector to apply when building new businesses.
Aereo has suspended its service, already bringing an exciting new business to a close.