Industry, public interest groups line up with Aereo

TV production set with camera and lighting equipment on tripods in front of Supreme Court building with in Washington D.C.

© Depositphotos / iofoto

After reading the arguments from a long list of trade unions, sports leagues, and the US Solicitor General against Aereo in its upcoming Supreme Court case, I’m encouraged to read an equally long list of trade groups and public interest organizations who are in favor of Aereo’s streaming TV technology.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation, along with Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, and Engine Advocacy, filed an amicus brief that stresses Aereo’s private performances, building on rulings that allowed the growth of the VCR and other personal entertainment technology. They wrote, “The Aereo case pits entrenched businesses with deep political ties against an innovative entrepreneur who carefully followed the words of the law and implemented an idea of giving people the broadcast television service they are entitled to get.”

That followed a brief submitted by the American Cable Association, which pointed out that Aereo doesn’t own the TV distribution platform it uses. “Aereo functions more like a DVR retailer or antenna installer,” it said. “By facilitating reception of broadcast programming, it may reduce demand for a cable television service subscription, but it does not function like cable.”

And there was Dish Network, also in support of Aereo. Dish compared the service to its Slingbox and other internet-based devices. “None of these devices does anything without an end-user’s command,” it said. “They are like dumbwaiters, incapable of delivering a pail of water without the thirsty person tugging on ropes and pulleys. If an individual uses that dumbwaiter to fetch himself a video he recorded of Breaking Bad, the dumbwaiter manufacturer does not infringe a copyright in the show.”

All this rational praise for Aereo makes a great antidote for that earlier stuff. I couldn’t believe that Major League Baseball said Aereo’s service would knock its games off the air, since MLB is already actively removing  its over-the-air games. The Los Angeles Dodgers dropped all OTA broadcasts and moved to its own, expensive cable network, causing no end of hand-wringing in the second-largest US TV market. More quietly in Philadelphia, the Phillies moved all but a dozen of its OTA games to cable. Those defections leave the Cubs and White Sox as the only two teams with 30 or more OTA games in 2014, thanks mostly to WGN. Last year, I wrote that MLB was cutting off a future generation of fans, and you can add the recent-graduate cord-nevers to that neglected group. Sure MLB.TV does a great job of selling all out-of-market games online, but for most fans, those home-team games left the airwaves years ago.

For another refutation of goofy anti-Aereo arguments, check out Mike Masnick’s post yesterday on Techdirt. Once again, Masnick summarizes what’s been bouncing around in my head. “Multiple comments on various Aereo posts have people insisting that the convoluted setup of Aereo’s technology … shows that they’re trying to skirt around the law. However, it seems rather obvious that it’s the exact opposite. There is no logical reason to have this kind of setup except to be within the law. Aereo’s “insane” technological setup is much an indication of why it’s legal — and how screwed up copyright law is that this is the only legal way to build such a system.”

I don’t know if the Supreme Court has ruled against “entrenched businesses with deep political ties” lately. I’m hoping that this summer’s decision will be a welcome, rational exception.