NYC broadcasters sue to shut down web TV service Aereo

NYC broadcasters sue to shut down web TV service Aereo

Summary: Weeks before its official launch, web TV service Aereo is in hot water with NYC broadcasters.

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware

It sure took them long enough.

Two weeks before cloud TV service Aereo is set to launch in New York City, area broadcasters are moving to shut it down.

WNET, Thirteen FOX, WPIX, Univision and others are suing Aereo on the grounds that its receiving and retransmitting content illegally.

Aereo, if you recall, functions by taking existing broadcast signals and retransmitting them to its customers via dedicated antennas. The company argues that, because each customer gets a dedicated antenna, the service is no different from a subscription-based pair of rabbit ears.

Not so, say the broadcasters, who call Aereo's arrays of mini-antenna's "technological gimmickry"  and accuse the company of violating their exclusive rights of public performance and reproduction.

"Simply put, Aereo is an unauthorized Internet delivery service that is receiving, converting, and retransmitting broadcast signals to it subscribers for a fee," the suit says.

Of course, very little of this is particularly shocking. Aereo's legal grounding was dubious from the very beginning, so it's of little surprise that the broadcasters now have the service in their sights.

Aereo and its investors expected the legal challenges as well, as AllThingsD Peter Kafka notes. That $25 million it raised was also for legal fees, apparently.

A PDF of the filing is available here.

Update: Aereo has responded to the lawsuit, and its defense is essentially a reiteration of what it has said previously:

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.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

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  • Pay for over the air?

    Nope not me.
    • Limited Basic

      I would agree with you except for the fact that my plan with Comcast is Limited Basic, which is essentially identical in content to what is available over the air. It is also identical to what I can receive over their line from the QAM tuner in my TV.

      As it turns out, Limited basic plus Internet is cheaper than Internet alone, and there isn't the hassle of the antenna.

      Your content requirements may vary. I know it drives my parents crazy when they visit and find that (still, again, for the nth++ time) that they can't watch CNN...
      • Then put in a SLING-BOX at your parents' house!

        If your parents have CCN and you DON'T - then buy a SlingBox - they are pretty cheap; then put it in at the 'rents house; then, when your parents are at your place, you just go over the Internet and view CNN via their Sling-Box. Even on a 1 Mb/sec Internet, I was able to watch most high-def signals at my buddy's Sling-Box in Pittsburgh, while here in Tennessee - with no blips. Sling-box uses a proprietary compression algorithm that truly is incredible! I can't believe how many people still don't know about SlingBox1 Soon it will be illegal probably - who knows? It's not really RE-broadcasting; it's more like YOU surfing over to YOUR PARENTS house (or visiting their house in person) and watching their TV. That's the whole argument this other company Aereo needs to use.

        If Aereo should be illegal, then SlingBox, which is comparable, should be illegal - or, vice-versa - since Slingbox never has had those legal challenges and, thus, is "legal;" then Aereo should be legal.
  • RE: NYC Broadcasters Sue to Shutdown Web TV Service Aereo

    If it's using over-the-air broadcasts that are already free to anybody with an antenna and a TV I don't see how converting it to a more convenient format to be used on a mobile is violating something... No money lost or gained (although if they are making people pay for the service which I guess is the case, than it is a bit confusing, but really, aren't you paying more for the convenience rather than the content?)
    • As near as I can tell, the problem is..

      that they are capturing the OTA broadcast, and then converting and re-broadcasting it. They have no legal right to broadcast that content.
      • Not only that ....

        ... they are taking OTA signals, converting them into a new format, re-broadcasting it on a different medium AND CHARGING MONEY for the content.

        This is about the same as people taking a video camera into theater, recording a new release movie, creating DVDs from the video and selling them on the street corner.

        Honestly, I don't understand how people would even think that this service can be considered legal without paying a fee to the content providers.
      • Maybe because the service IS legal

        @ wackoae
        It is absolutely nothing like that. It is like taking a video camera to an open air, public performance, and airing that.
        The law is actually on Aereo's side here. There is precedent with other companies that housed DVRs for their clients and then allowed them to access and program them remotely. The broadcasters also sued to have them shut down, and lost in court, under the same defense as Aereo is using.
      • There is already precedent in Aereo's favour

        @ msalzberg
        They are capturing the OTA broadcast using the subscriber's OWN antenna, which they simply house. They then distribute that signal from the users OWN antenna to their mobile device. They have every right to provide this service.
      • subscriber's own antenna?

        Curious concept. Does the subscriber have the right to take that antenna "back" when the service is discontinued? If you buy an antenna in my name and keep it in your house to provide me content with it, isn't it mine after that arrangement ends?

        If not, then the whole thing is a sham.
      • The only "precedence" is in the rear end ....

        ... of idiots who think they know what they are talking about.

        I guess the fact that cable companies HAVE to pay a fee to local channels and they MUST have proof of licensing before they transmit even 5 secs of OTA content must be too much REAL PRECEDENCE to understand.

        Here is a simple hint: Visit the pages on FCC rulings about retransmitting OTA signals.
      • Why on earth did you puts quotes around the word "precedence"?!?

        How about you pay attention? This is nothing like cable companies, that have their OWN satellite dishes that take in the digital feed from the broadcaster and then rebroadcast.
        I will try to make this clear. Aero simply provides housing for an antenna and receiver that belongs TO THE USER, and then broadcasts the content FROM THAT receiver it's owner. This is the same thing the SlingBox does.
        Hint: the SlingBox is perfectly legal.
  • Managed service provider

    I haven't seen their customer contracts, but it sounds like they are a managed service provider. The fee could be for handling the conversion from OTA broadcast to any device unicast (or "multicast", but presumably not broadcast). It may be comparable to a cloud based Slingbox. If they limit concurrent log-ins, I don't see any issues. Unlimited concurrent logins would make it look like a broadcast, and may be a problem.
  • Transport rights, content rights, and all of that...

    There's actually quite a lot more to this with regard to the legalities and licenses of transporting and distributing content.

    I am not a lawyer, but can share some experiences associated with building and implementing an IPTV-based system for an ILEC. While there is some content that one can receive and rebroadcast without encumbrance (e.g. some religious stations), the majority of them require specific transport rights and content rights -- even if you can acquire the signal over the air.

    For local distribution in essentially the same market, because most of the OTA broadcasters are losing out on ad revenue, they are switching from "must carry" provisions to "per subscriber" fee based arrangements to recover some $$. The FCC allows them to do this. And if the telco/cable company doesn't pay, they cannot legally carry the content. Several markets are doing this for e.g. the rights to transport HDTV content.

    For distribution outside the OTA broadcaster's service area, there are other potential issues with regard to network exclusivity in the region the IPTV broadcaster makes available, which need to be addressed (e.g. broadcasting New York's Fox in, say, Seattle, may cause issue with the Seattle OTA Fox affiliate)

    Ultimately, this is about requesting, and obtaining permission to rebroadcast. And part of that usually comes some sort of $$ changing hands. And those will be quite specific in terms of to whom one can distribute (private, or business), where one can distribute (the service area), and any other restrictions (e.g. blackouts in certain regions for live events, like ball-games), encryption requirements, etc.

    Finally, the DVR defense is an interesting one. However, there's a rather large difference (chasm?) between a single-user sling-box application and rebroadcasting content to a large audience for a fee. The FCC has been down this road with other forms of broadcast interception before: receiving something and listening in is one thing. Recording it and distributing it is another.

    A number of us "broadcasters" (even if it is via 'bits') will be watching this case closely. Given the amount of $$ the content and transport providers stand to lose if Aereo actually wins this case, I can imagine there will be a large defense effort from a number of the content providers.

    • very well described

      I think you describe the conundrum very well. While I like the concept of what Aereo is providing, and hopefully this becomes the norm of TV transmission down the road, I think they're on difficult ground if they are not paying $$ upstream to the content providers/broadcasters.
  • Different than old-time CATV?

    I don't understand how Aereo's product has any less standing than the old Community Antenna Television cable systems that were common in the '50s through '70s, until they evolved into or were replaced by cable television. Back then, it was considered fair use to use a common antenna to receive broadcast content and then forward it to many subscribers. Does profit vs. non-profit affect that? Did the rules change since then?
  • Over the Air Should be FREE within your DMA... period!

    If you look at how television stations obtained their licenses and the right to broadcast you will find out that the license costs money, but the air space provided to them is FREE provided that they adhere to specific rules set forth by the FCC. All content delivered via that medium is free.

    Now, the cable company (or FIOS, etc) is providing the SAME FREE CONTENT to the SAME DMA as the over the air signal is SUPPOSED to cover. Notice how I say SUPPOSED!!! In many cases it does not reach all of the people who should by right get the signal. When they do not, someone can step in and provide that signal without altering it's content to strip out commercials, etc and be under no obligation to pay to distribute it. Somehow that got lost in favor of retransmission fees. If the stations reach more people, the commercials have more value to advertisers. So the stations get more viewers and more money to ALLOW?? it?? to?? happen?? That is spelled "GREED" in any book.

    The FCC has turned a blind eye to this deceit that provides a way for television stations to get more income as a result of what can only be interpreted as low and underhanded conduct. The stations will disagree of course, and then double or even triple what they asked for a while back to deliver even less content via a cable company, and for what? Their costs tripled? NO! Their GREED tripled! Reality TV is cheep to produce and easy to deliver. Less cost, more profit!

    The FCC needs to put an end to the GREED TRAIN not only in television, but also in cellular and the Internet industry. Basically in communications as a whole.

    Once upon a time most of this was created using grants of public taxpayer money, and then was taken control of by the big communications companies. All of it belongs to a few rich people now who pay off our elected officials to keep control over their kingdom, or DMA. It used to belong to us, the people!

    The time is now to say "enough"! If the FCC will do nothing perhaps it is time to cut that cord all together. The TV, the Internet, and the phone! A simple life is what we all miss. A life where we come home from work and enjoy time with our families and with our friends. It is time to take that back America..
    • Visit the UK one of this days

      Then tell us how OTA should be free.

      In the UK, people have to pay a COMPULSORY LICENSE per TV in the household.
      • yep...

        sucks to be in the UK (in this regard).
        my question would be: HOW on earth do they COUNT the TVs in your house?
        that is WAY too much "Big Brother / 1984" for me to consider. I guess, if all your TVs are hooked to the 'cable;' then they can 'detect' the load; aka the # of TVs. or, if all TVs are hooked to the "spy boxes" (aka 'cable boxes'); then certainly they can count the # of TVs.

        Originally, in the US, they tried to "Count / Limit" the # of TVs in our houses, but we refused to stand for it. When first helping with TV service, the first question the technicians or cable TV people asked was, "How many TVs do you have in the house?" Very intrusive; invansion of privacy, etc.

        Same with Telephones - the first question the phone company always asked was "How many telephones do you have?" Again, we 'refused' to stand for it. They were trying to charge based on "Ringer Equivalency Number" or some such - claiming that the "more phones, the more load on the phone company," but as technology improved, "line load" no longer was an issue. Now you can have 50 phones in the house, and who cares... Just food for U.K. thought. Cheers!
  • Here's my Two Cents.

    If I rent a TV and watch a broadcast on it, or Rent a DVR, or Rent a VCR, I can watch whatever I want for free over the air. The rental company doesn't pay anything to the broadcaster, and we don't pay anything to the broadcaster. It would be different if the rental company was capturing the channel and re-broadcasting it to another audience. 25 years ago, if someone said, I'm starting a company to route broadcast to people and have them pay us, the broadcasters would have laughed, now everyone wants a piece of everything that is going on. Since the broadcasters are using the airwaves, maybe taxpayers should get their monthly dues from the broadcasters.