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Aereo’s copyright solution: intentional inefficiency

Aereo's backward architecture could be the thing that keeps it in business.

Aereo, an online service that sends free over-the-air television broadcasts to subscribers, scored a big win in court this week.

At first glance, it would seem the service has to violate copyright. Aereo is grabbing TV content without paying for it and then passing it along to Aereo’s paying subscribers.

So how is Aereo pulling it off? Over at Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee deconstructs the service’s blend of tech and legal precedent:

Aereo’s technology was designed from the ground up to take advantage of a landmark 2008 ruling holding that a “remote” DVR product offered by Cablevision was consistent with copyright law. Key to that ruling was Cablevision’s decision to create a separate copy of recorded TV programs for each user. While creating thousands of redundant copies makes little sense from a technical perspective, it turned out to be crucial from a legal point of view …

… When a user wants to view or record a television program, Aereo assigns him an antenna exclusively for his own use. And like Cablevision, when 1,000 users record the same program, Aereo creates 1,000 redundant copies. [Links included in original text; emphasis added.]

Creating lots of copies of the exact same content is inefficient. No one can argue that point. But if you can get past the absurdity, you have to admit Aereo’s architecture is quite clever. Take thousands of tiny antennas, combine them with abundant storage, and now you’ve got a disruptive service that might survive the onslaught of litigation.

Note: Aereo’s recent win only applies to a request for a preliminary injunction. Further court proceedings are likely, and you can bet there will be a long and winding appeals process.

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  • mtpdmblo

    This startup is a great example of how the tech world is full of socially retarded, aspergery idiots. The reason that copyright exists is not to have some arbitrarily complex set of rules about which copies are legit and which are fair use and which are infringement. It’s not a game, despite the way that these tech startup jerks seem to feel it’s an invitation to play.

    No. Copyright exists so the artists stand a chance of making back some money they invest in a work. The correct way for the tech community to deal with these video creators is to decide whether the content is worth the price. If it is, pay it. If it isn’t, look elsewhere. That’s how O’Reilly expects readers to treat their books. Why not extend the same courtesy to the video creators?

    To sit around and revel in this techno-hair splitting is silly. If the video is worth the price, pay the piper. If not, don’t watch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Allen/100000469719065 Ben Allen

      How do we know if it is worth the price without first watching?

      • mtpdmblo

        The same way you do with every product. Is an O’Reilly book worth buying? You’ve got to judge the book by the cover, the sales literature and the brand. O’Reilly has a great reputation and so I’m more likely to buy their book if it’s about a topic I want to learn about.

        Or are you one of those Internet jerks who thinks you should get everything for free because you’re just “tasting it”. Then maybe you’ll think about putting money in a tip jar although you never do.

  • drawpl

    That copyright exists to give artists a chance to make money is a popular misconception. In truth, it exists in US law to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. It exists to serve the public, not the artist. After a certain point, stricter copyright ceases to promote and begins to hinder progress of science and useful arts. The complex set of rules surrounding copyright exist only because certain parties seek to extend the reach of copyright far beyond the point where it promotes progress for the public and into the realm where it captures profits in the hands of a few large corporations.