In an unstunning (I called it!) development this week the United States Supreme Court ruled in ABC v. Aereo that Aereo’s antenna-based television streaming service violated copyright protections. This has effectively shut down the company, which, it seems, no one uses but many people are sympathetic to. Here is a letter from Aereo, which is now all that seems to remain of the company’s website.
It should surprise no one that the highest court in the land has sided with the broadcasters. The fact that the airwaves they use belong to the people seems to have been lost on the justices. Aereo used antennas to capture and record TV signals, then allowed subscribers to watch programs when they wanted. This same issue went to the court waaaay back when betamax was new and the argument by he TV networks was that they’d be crushed by piracy and that would be the end of TV.
Well, that certainly didn’t happen, and it seems very unlikely that Aereo was going to kill TV, either. I’d imagine a similar fight would have happened when the DVR came around, except that the telecoms decided this was a handy thing to bundle into cable and satellite service, and when the telecoms get behind something that pretty much insures its survival.
Now we wait and see if this ruling causes more cases to call into question the legality of other cloud-based data services. Could it be illegal to email yourself a news article? Or store songs you already paid for on Dropbox? Who knows! American copyright law is confusing and often counterproductive to innovation (and the subsequent economic growth that comes with it). This may not destroy the internet but it will almost certainly have a chilling effect on technological innovation in the entertainment/media industry. But even that can create new technologies and services–without the the courts and congress killing filesharing (like Napster) we’d possibly not have Pandora and other such streaming services… or maybe it would still be ad-free and we’d all be missing out on valuable ads.