ChurchHatesTucker points us to the latest news about Aereo, the service that has been facing endless opposition and jumping through countless legal hoops just to be able to offer a simple service that lets people watch public TV broadcasts online. Undaunted, Aereo recently announced plans to launch in Boston, which spurred an analyst to ask CBS (which is engaged in a lawsuit against Aereo in New York) how it would respond:
McClintock (CBS' exec VP of communications) sure doesn't mince words, but he does mince reality. The broadcasters are not faring well against Aereo, with the courts all apparently recognizing that the company has carefully followed the letter of the law established in the Cablevision ruling. It's bizarre that he would try to characterize the situation as an obvious win for CBS when the exact opposite is true — especially in a conversation with tech analysts and journalists. Still, points for confidence, I guess.
It didn't end there, either:
After [Verge editor Ben] Popper noted that CBS' signals were not being stolen and that the public owned the airwaves, McClintock responded: "Yet it's ok for Aereo to profit from the same public. Hmmm..."
Greenfield got in a zinger by noting the similarities between Aereo and Amazon's services. "Amazon 'makes money'" Greenfield wrote on Twitter, "on selling antennas to watch broadcast TV, and they ship to Boston."
The question of "profiting from the public" is a red herring, and not a smart one for CBS to bring up. After all, the networks profit from their public broadcasts, too. Do they plan to give back all the money they have made from selling ads on the publicly-owned airwaves for which they paid no access fee?
The fact that the airwaves are owned by the public only means what it sounds like. It means the ability to broadcast on the airwaves is permitted by the public — it does not have anything to do with how the public accesses those airwaves, or whether or not someone is making a profit. As Greenfield points out, by McClintock's logic, it would be wrong to charge money for a TV antenna.
The Twitter exchange perfectly highlights a key issue here: thanks to the vagaries of copyright law, the whole fight over Aereo (and over remote DVR) is basically a fight about the length of a wire. Selling a home TV antenna? Legal. Renting a home TV antenna to someone? Yup. Selling someone a setup that hooks their antenna into a computer and then into their network, so they can watch it on any of their devices? No problem. Renting that same setup to them? Sure thing.
But doing any of that from slightly further away? 'Illegal!' cry the networks.
Luckily, despite the networks' facade of confidence and silly threats to pull their broadcasts, the courts seem to be well aware of the ridiculousness of their argument. Given the recent rulings, it seems unlikely that a new lawsuit in Boston would gain much traction — but, of course, just the fact that the lawsuits keep on coming serves as a roadblock to Aereo's innovation. The broken analogies enforced by copyright law have resulted in an insane situation with online streaming (among other things), and the fact that the fight with Aereo has even gone this far (and shows no signs of stopping) just underscores the severity of the problem.