from the quack-quack dept
If you’ve been following copyright issues for more than a few years, you surely remember Aereo, a company that attempted to set up a bunch of micro-TV antennas which it could then use to stream broadcast TV to paying subscribers. What was fascinating about Aereo was how it was set up in a manner that was positively insane to any technologist — but was considered “necessary” to comply with the law, following a bunch of nonsensical copyright rulings from other companies trying to offer streaming TV. And, incredibly, its careful following of the rules was declared to be proof that it was trying to “get around” the rules.
And then, even more bizarre, the Supreme Court ruled against Aereo using no actually defined standard, but basically just saying that it looked too much like a cable service, so they’ll call it a cable service (something I’ve referred to as the Supreme Court’s “looks like a duck” doctrine). As we pointed out at the time, part of the problem with such a weird test is that it provided zero guidance to tech innovators who wanted to build a system within the law. Basically, the Supreme Court (or lower courts) can now decide that something “looks” too much like another system, and decide it’s magically illegal… just because.
However, it appears that at least one operation is trying again with an Aereo-like approach. And once again, it’s taken a very legally-focused approach. Perhaps that’s because it’s been set up by a lawyer, David Goodfriend, who formerly worked for the FCC (and in the media industry). The NY Times has a big article about his Locast operation, and how he’s hoping to get sued to prove that his approach is legal, where Aereo’s failed. The basic approach does sound quite like Aereo:
On the roof of a luxury building at the edge of Central Park, 585 feet above the concrete, a lawyer named David Goodfriend has attached a modest four-foot antenna that is a threat to the entire TV-industrial complex.
The device is there to soak up TV signals coursing through the air ? content from NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS and CBS, including megahits like ?This Is Us? and this Sunday?s broadcast of Super Bowl LIII. Once plucked from the ether, the content is piped through the internet and assembled into an app called Locast. It?s a streaming service, and it makes all of this network programming available to subscribers in ways that are more convenient than relying on a home antenna: It?s viewable on almost any device, at any time, in pristine quality that doesn?t cut in and out. It?s also completely free.
There are a couple of difference between Aereo and Locast, starting with the fact that Locast is offering its services for free. The second is that Locast is set up as a non-commercial entity, rather than a for-profit company (which also helps explain the “free” to subscribers bit). And it is true that copyright law is somewhat kinder to non-profits. But just barely. Goodfriend thinks he’s on solid legal ground, though, to be fair, so did Aereo.
?We really did our homework,? he said. ?We are operating under parameters that are designed to be compliant within the law.?
He also notes, correctly, that the whole point of over the air terrestrial broadcasts is that they’re supposed to be available for free, to anyone with an antenna. That was kind of the whole point. On top of this, of course, courts have already said that it’s perfectly legal to stream content that you capture legally via an antenna over the internet for viewing. The real difference here, as it was with Aereo, is just who technically owns the antenna.
?The American people have given you something really valuable, the airways, for free,? he said, talking about the broadcasters, his eyes popping at the word ?free.? Slowing down for emphasis, he added: ?So shouldn?t we get something back for free? Which is great television. That?s the social contract, right??
The article further notes that Goodfriend — who initially designed the idea of Locast while teaching the Aereo case to law students at Georgetown — would “welcome a legal challenge” from the TV networks to prove that his approach is legal — though it’s unclear if the networks feel like going after him. The article quotes Aereo founder/CEO Chet Kanojia, who points out that the networks ignored Aereo until it raised a bunch of money from Barry Diller, and then suddenly it became worth it to sue. Goodfriend notes that he’s currently chasing down funding deals, even approaching his own version of Barry Diller in Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen (for whom Goodfriend used to work), but so far has not closed anything.
Assuming Locast actually does start to catch on (and a big story in the NY Times certainly will give it a pretty big bump), I would be surprised if the networks didn’t eventually sue, and then we get to go through the Aereo debate all over again. Quack, quack, quack.