Barely two weeks ago, Erick was on hand at a news conference in which Barry Diller and company presented IAC’s latest media-tech investment — a startup called Aereo. Simply put, Aereo streams broadcast TV through the browser and provides a DVR in the cloud by “miniaturizing TV antennas and packing them in equipment that sits on the network,” as Erick wrote at the time. The cloud-based service streams over-the-air channels for just $12 a month, which means that, even in spite of the unassuming size of its antennae, Aereo’s model represents a threat to the old guard.
Today, a group of broadcasters, including Fox, Univision, and PBS filed two separate lawsuits against Aereo (the two groups collectively represent most of the major media outlets in New York City), claiming that the startup is infringing on the broadcasters’ copyrights and that its technology fails to meet the criteria of any sort of legal loophole. As such, the broadcasters are seeking an injunction, which would prevent Aereo from releasing its product on the market. In addition, the broadcasters will be seeking monetary damages “for what they claim are Aereo’s violations of the Copyright Act,” according to the New York Times.
Barry Diller loves to ruffle the feathers of old media, and there’s no way that he was unaware this was coming. According to the startup’s self-description — “Live broadcast TV, meet the Internet. Finally.” — there was no way that something like this was going to slide under the noses of the tycoons, especially considering that Aereo had been planning to roll out its service in Brooklyn in the next few weeks — and at that undercutting price point.
Disruption of traditional media has been tried again and again, and unfortunately many of those startups or companies have failed because of the legal quagmire the broadcasters can afford to mire them in. Try to mess with the structure, and there’s a good chance you’ll get sued until the cows come home.
In the lawsuit, which you can find on Scribd here, the broadcasters basically say that it doesn’t matter how big those rascally-rabbit ears on top of their boob tube are:
No amount of technological gimmickery by Aereo — or claims that it is simply providing a set of sophisticated “rabbit ears” — changes the fundamental principle of Copyright Law that those who wish to retransmit [their] broadcasts may do so only with [their] permission. Simply put, Aereo is an unauthorized Internet delivery service that is receiving, converting and retransmitting broadcast signals to its subscribers for a fee…
So there you have it. Aereo believes it is not culpable here, because its individual subscribers are linked to a set of antenna, and as Jeff Roberts at paidContent points out, Cablevision successfully defended a similar case regarding its remote digital video recorder technology, “after an appeals court found that there was no [actual] transmission to the public.”
Nonetheless, just in case there was any question of whether or not this was going to end up in court, settled by the gavel, we’ve just been pointed to Aereo’s response to the broadcasters’ lawsuits. Boiled down to a sentence, Aereo is standing firm in its innocence, and doesn’t think the broadcasters’ position has “any merit,” and will be seeing them in court, thank you very much:
Today, two groups of broadcasters filed two separate federal lawsuits against Aereo in the Southern District of New York claiming that Aereo will infringe their copyrights by making available technology which enables consumers to access broadcast television via a remote antenna and DVR. Aereo does not believe that the broadcasters’ position has any merit and it very much looks forward to a full and fair airing of the issues.
Consumers are legally entitled to access broadcast television via an antenna and they are entitled to record television content for their personal use. Innovations in technology over time, from digital signals to Digital Video Recorders (“DVRs”), have made access to television easier and better for consumers. Aereo provides technology that enables consumers to use their cloud DVR and their remote antenna to record and watch the broadcast television signal to which they are entitled anywhere they are, whether on a phone, a tablet, a television or a laptop.
Let the legal proceedings begin.
Image from Project-Pak