Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aereo is Toast

Tim Lee has a great rundown on today's Supreme Court ruling on the internet-television company Aereo:
In the process of ruling against Aereo, the Supreme Court has created a mess that will take lower courts years to clean up. Online services that are similar to Aereo in some respects and different in others are more likely to face lawsuits, and the lower courts will have to sort out which services are similar enough to Aereo to face copyright liability.
His point about future political chaos and uncertainty in the cloud storage industry isn't even a comprehensive picture of the damage this ruling will cause. The sections of spectrum currently claimed by broadcast television are extremely potent (signals are long-range and can pass through concrete etc.), and are almost certainly not allocated to their highest and best use (that would be wireless internet). Siding with Aereo would have set the US on the slow path towards reallocating this valuable spectrum, and eliminating the ridiculous subsidy to broadcast television.

On another note, I can't help think that even though Aereo's specific legal strategy didn't work (a warehouse full of tiny antennas), the basic idea of streaming television over the internet is inevitable. Aereo was probably over-ambitious by placing the antennas in a remote warehouse. This encouraged a psychological framing of their service as one totally disconnected from the typical TV-viewing experience. But image if instead you placed a unique antenna in your house, on your TV, which then connected to the internet and let you watch it anywhere. Having the antenna 'based' in your home, instead of in an impersonal warehouse would certainly make the broadcasters' case harder to stomach. After all, you can already do this with an old laptop...

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