Making Mobile Video Streaming Better By Operating In The 'Unused Spectrum' Of Copyright Law
from the they're-right!-IP-law-DOES-promote-innovation! dept
The streaming video experience on many mobile phone networks frequently flat out sucks. A YouTube video that would never trouble your home wi-fi connection sputters to a near halt before dividing its time between buffering and coughing up bursts of unsynched video and sound. And while having Netflix available on your phone seems to be a technological marvel, it's pretty useless in the wild. Plus, many phone data plans have been capped at very low levels, making streaming a full movie potentially very expensive.
Thanks to the entertainment industry, you can't even temporarily download a streamed movie to watch it later in order to bypass lousy connection speeds or data overages. This includes streaming services where the buffet pricing allows you to watch the same movie dozens of times consecutively, if that's your thing. A buffered copy is an infringing copy (in their eyes, but not a key court's), even if the temporary file deletes itself after consumption. The entities behind the TPP push are still hoping to subject buffered copies to licensing, even though the key Cablevision ruling in the 2nd Circuit said that such copies are not infringing.
As it stands now, the entertainment industry is unable to set up its toll booth on buffer copies, but that hasn't stopped it from trying. Between the ongoing push for buffer licenses and differing IP laws in various countries, providers of streaming services have played it safe by not offering a "download and view later" option. Even a self-deleting, single use file would be considered a violation of copyright law.
Fortunately, Dr. Shivendra S. Panwar has devised a workaround process that should satisfy both rights holders and mobile users.
Streamloading is Dr. Panwar's term for his new fusion of streaming and downloading. He hopes it will help wireless carriers get more mileage out of their bandwidth, while also helping data consumers watch more videos on the go.It seems to be a rather elegant solution and one that you would hope would satisfy rights holders. Of course, we've seen the entertainment industry throw the brakes on other technological advancements, especially if it sees the new innovation to be potentially pirateable and short a toll booth or two. See also the ongoing Aereo battle, in which TV broadcasters have claimed the very inelegant process deployed by Aereo (in order to comply with every possibly applicable section of copyright law) is actually evidence that Aereo's service is infringing. Checking and double-checking your processes against IP law only gets you so far. After that, you're subject to the entertainment industry's version of the "heckler's veto."
The technology works by bisecting video into two layers. First is a base layer, which streams during viewing, then there would be a higher layer, which the user would pre-download from some high-bandwidth location like the home or office. While the higher layer would be useless on its own, and thus in compliance with intellectual property laws whose aim is to prevent free sharing, it would nonetheless comprise about 3/4ths of the total data.
Because the streamed base layer would be necessary to unlock the viewing experience while still constituting only about 1/4th of the data, effective and lawful streaming on the go would require fairly low bandwidths. The low bandwidth required to stream the content would mean that data-heavy movies and TV shows would be watchable on your phone even in zones of spotty coverage.
Panwar has high hopes for this process, which would operate in an area still untested by copyright law. It looks like a win for consumers and possibly even streaming services, but I'm not sure wireless providers will like it as much as Panwar believes they will.
I see this as a triple win scenario. Carriers are facing a bandwidth crunch. The 4G LTE systems are not keeping up with demand for data. AT&T has said publicly that they might run out of capacity this year. A crude way for them to control demand is to raise data charges, which would drive away customers. Anything delivering quality data at a lower cost is good for the carriers. That's the first win.Carriers may talk a lot about "bandwidth crunches" and "data hogs," but it's all just a sales pitch with slightly apocalyptic undertones ("running out of capacity;" "stressing our infrastructure") designed to keep customers strapped into low limit data plans with high overage fees. It's been basically a way to print money from day one. Finding a way to move less data over their networks will make you a friend of the people, but wireless providers' reactions will range from indifferent to antagonistic as a more efficient process cuts into their cash cows. About the only way to sell them on this is to tie the delivery system exclusively to one of their favored, net-neutrality-violating services and portals so they can deliver "preferred" data without further taxing their undertaxed infrastructure. "Delivering data at a lower cost" has been going on for years, even as service prices continue to increase.
Other than that, the process looks like it could make mobile video streaming a rather enjoyable experience, rather than a tedious near-slideshow that sucks for everyone involved but your wireless provider.