Why the Supreme Court, and You, Should Side with Aereo in the Legal-Tech Case of the Year
Many technology companies are touted as “disruptive.” But very few find their alleged disruptive cred being assessed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
That’s why Aereo has been all over the headlines this week. The company, and its big-television-network opponents, presented the highest court in the land with arguments that it is either a wildly beneficial innovator — or a shameless thief seeking to profit from the intellectual labors of others. The court’s ruling (which probably won’t arrive until this summer) will supposedly determine the future of television.
Plenty of smart people suspect the networks will prevail, and when I view the case through the cold lens of the law, I will admit that they may be right. But forget predictions. What makes sense in the tech-driven entertainment world we actually inhabit? What should the Supremes conclude? What should you conclude?
The answer is that the court should take Aereo’s side in this argument. And the more I think about it, I’d say even the networks should be pro-Aereo.
Here’s the basic background. (If you already feel confident about that, skip ahead two paragraphs.)
Once upon a time, programming from television (and, before that, radio) networks found its way into American homes by traveling over the airwaves, through a physical antenna, and into TV sets in countless living rooms. Then cable emerged as an alternative means of delivering programming to screens in homes; providers gave us access to lots of new channels but also wanted to keep the traditional broadcast networks on the menu. So they paid those networks a fee in order to do so.
Aereo has set out to offer us — for $8 to $12 a month — another way to access broadcast programming on mobile devices and other screen-centric objects And it is not paying networks for the privilege. To pull this off, it has gone back to the future, with a setup involving many thousands of teeny-tiny antennas that live in a central location. Each links up with a specific customer, via a cloud-style system: Viewers can stream a network show or save it for later.
Company CEO Chet Kanojia speaks about the technology and the company’s legal travails in this interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric here. My Yahoo Tech colleague David Pogue reviews the product from a consumer point of view here. Bottom line: He finds it rather impressive — but does not sound optimistic that it will survive its Supreme Court showdown with the big networks.
Aereo CEO Kanojia, holding one of Aereo’s antennas. Image: AP