I've been followiong the Aereo lawsuit for some time. And I personally thought the company had found a way to beat the cable and TV networks at their own game by incorporating some of the same technically inefficient and braindead approaches the behemoths use for doing business into their own product offering.
When it came to trial, the judge sided with Aereo, dismissing the circular logic and and contradictory arguments the TV industry tried to sell the court on.
I was waiting for an appeal because it's never over with these guys until it's over - and most times not even then. And an appeal was filed as expected. But much to my surprise, the appeals court also sided with Aereo against the networks. TechDirt covered the story in their usual thorough style (link to full article here
). Here's an excerpt:
Aereo Wins Again: Appeals Court Says Its System Is Not Infringing
from the a-good-win dept
As you may recall, Aereo has been in an ongoing legal dispute with the TV networks, who seem to be arguing that anything that disrupts their coveted business model simply must be illegal. While they've won against others, Aereo actually won the first round at the district court level, blocking an attempted injunction. The networks quickly appealed. On appeal, it seemed clear that the judges realized just how insane the situation is. If you don't recall, Aereo sets up a separate individual antenna for each customer, and then streams TV broadcasts to that customer over the internet. This setup makes no technological sense whatsoever. It's inefficient and stupid. But because of the wacky way copyright is interpreted, it's believed to be necessary to avoid being guilty of infringement for doing the same damn thing much more efficiently.
Today, on appeal, the appeals court affirmed the district court ruling, once again blowing a big hole in the networks' arguments. The full ruling (linked above and embedded below) is well worth a read, as it's nice to see the court really try to do its best to truly understand the technology at play, rather than resorting to simplistic and inaccurate analogies, as copyright maximalists often desire. The key to the networks' argument here is that those individual antennas that Aereo sets up are a myth. They claim that it's really one giant antenna. The court disagrees. This issue plays into the big question of whether or not Aereo's service is functionally the same as the (legal) Cablevision remote DVR system, or if it goes too far and is a tool for infringement. The distinguishing factor in that Cablevision case was that Cablevision made a unique copy for every user who requested it (again, stupid and inefficient from a technological standpoint, but this is the life we lead under bad copyright laws). Bizarrely, even Cablevision argued against Aereo here, trying to distinguish its own case (perhaps to handicap a potential competitor).
The court, thankfully, doesn't buy Cablevision's own wacky interpretation, but rather relies on what the court in is case actually said, mainly, that having a unique copy means that it's not doing a "public performance" of the work.
It's a good read, and hopefully an indication that the US court system is beginning to get more technically savvy and less willing to accept at face value the interpretations of reality far too many entrenched industry players are insisting on.
In many respects, courts and judges should be far better at dealing with some of these claims and arguments than they are. (C'mon blackrobes! It is
2013 after all!) However, while it's true most judges don't know a diode from a network node, they are quite
good at dealing with issues of logic and definition. And although the law does have its own unique form of logic, the one thing the legal system is (within its own domain) is exceptionally rational
. Even if, at times, it's carried to a fault.
Either way, this case is encouraging. I expect the next move will be for the cable and TV industry to try to bring it before the Supreme Court if they can figure out some totally ridiculous argument to elevate this case to a constitutional issue. But I doubt the USSC will be buying any of it since appeals courts are generally spot on when it comes to matters of judicial scope and interpretation. And it usually takes some extreme question of law or interpretive conflict to get on the high court's docket.
But again - it ain't over till it's over. And I don't see the fat lady with the sheet music warming up in the wings just yet.