A judge upholds Aereo’s legality, potentially paving the way for the future of Internet television.

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

Hey, remember when we talked about how people were skeptical about the future of Aereo, a product we’ve documented on this very blog time and time again, because of the rumblings that it may or may not actually be legal? Enter U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan and her ruling on the product on Wednesday after every single network in the world tried to take the company down in a storm of lawsuits. From The Associated Press …

“U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan said she understood how the service provided by the company, Aereo, may be unfair to broadcasters. But she said the law left her no choice but to reject a request by News Corp.’s Fox and other broadcasters to pull the plug on the company,” Larry Neumeister reported.

Now, what law was she talking about, the disembodied voice asks. Well, let’s see if I can fake my way through explaining it all in a quick and simple form. Essentially, the ruling was upheld with help from the U.S. Second Court of Appeals’ decision that favored Cablevision in 2008. That ruling? From The Los Angeles Times …

“At issue was whether Cablevision, the cable TV provider in Long Island, could put what amounted to a massive rack of digital video recorders in its central office, rather than sticking them into the set-top boxes in people’s homes,” the paper wrote“The recorders would be operated by customers using their TV remote controls, with a limited amount of storage area dedicated to each household. If multiple people decided to record the same program, a separate copy would be made for each of them. In short, the service operated just as a TiVo would, except that the hard drive was located outside the home.”

Or, in other words, the ruling made DVRs legal.

This applies here because of how cable companies objected to the idea of being able to access Aereo — and subsequently, television networks — from various mobile devices that usually have a lower-case “i” in front of their titles. Because of the aforementioned 2008 ruling essentially legalizing the idea of DVRs, Nathan agreed with Aereo, which argued that it was “providing a legal, alternate platform for free TV broadcasts and was merely letting users rent a remotely located antenna to access content they could receive for free by installing the same equipment at home” and that it “effectively rents to its users remote equipment comparable to what they could install at home,” according to the Associated Press.

Or, in other words, it’s OK to record things for later viewing, and it doesn’t really matter where the recording device is located as long as the recording isn’t shared.

The most intriguing part of this? Jon Healey, of The Los Angeles Times, compared Aereo with the ill-fated Sony Betamax from 1984 …

“Copyright lawyers will supply more expert readings on this than I can, but if Nathan’s ruling stands, the trend line seems obvious,” he wrote. “The protection that Betamax offered technologies is gradually extending to services that virtualize the features of the VCR and incorporate the capability and flexibility of digital media. As long as the service provider isn’t recording or digitizing content on its own initiative, using the same copy to serve multiple customers or circumventing electronic locks, there seems to be an opening for companies to help people consume media on their own terms — in the format and at the time and place they choose. And they may be able to do so even if their service competes with the copyright owners’ video-on-demand and pay-per-view offerings.”

And, as we like to say here at TV Without A TV … boom goes the dynamite.

Aereo — which, if you remember correctly, initially came with a $12 price tag — has ballooned from 100 users to 3,500 users so far this year (partly because of all the trillions of readers who come across this blog regularly, of course). If the one major problem with all of this was the question of its legitimacy — and if a District Judge just cleared that hurdle for the start-up company with Wednesday’s ruling — what’s left to stop this thing?

The Betamax comparison holds value because of what has come of the Betamax. Sure, nobody uses it anymore. And yeah, I think about 59 of them were ever actually sold at some point in the mid-1980s. But think of all the precedent it set for the future of home-viewing. Every Blu-Ray player needs a DVD player before it. And every DVD player needs a VCR before it. And then every VCR needs a Betamax before that. And every Betamax needs a … wait. Can this analogy go back any further?

Precisely my point. Even if Aereo isn’t a hit, this ruling could set the tone for the future of Internet television and exactly how imbedded it will eventually be in our everyday lives. Yeah, we are far away from Aereo’s version of a Blue-Ray player in this analogy, but remember — all it took was a VCR for people to begin dictating when and where they could watch what. And if history serves correctly, Aereo’s VCR shouldn’t be far off.

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