A Legal Minute: Aereo & BarryDriller TV Streaming Legal Cases
A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
TV, TV Everywhere, Not A Deal to Ink
There is something to be said for growing up in a time when we did not have the Internet and widespread television cable access. Most everyone got their television through one broadcast signal over the airwaves, and it was hard to imagine that one day we would have a broad range of choice for how to get our television. I remember the day my family bought cable and I was so thrilled that we had 30 stations. Remember that?
Well, with the advent of the Internet and new technologies, not only is it easier to see the show you want when you want it, but it is so easy, in fact, that we live in a world where the companies that provide the television entertainment are finding it harder and harder to prevent people from broadcasting their content without their permission.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, CA, Fox network is suing barrydriller.com, a startup website that streams live television content. This is not the first time we have seen a case brought like this either. In New York, a similar lawsuit was filed against a similar startup website, Aereo. Both barrydriller.com and Aereo are accused of the same infraction, streaming television signals to their subscribers without permission from the television stations and content owners.
Barrydriller.com charges subscribers $5.95 a month to beam television signals broadcast by antennae to peoples’ computers. In effect his claim is based on the idea that the television broadcasts like the television we grew up with (transmitted over the air) are free and thus, anyone can stream them to any device, and even charge a premium. Aereo takes the same stance. But the founder of barrydriller.com has said that he at least would like to pay some money to broadcasters.
So imagine, all the television we got for free, through our antennae, can now stream straight to your computer and only when someone wants to attach a price tag is this not okay. Networks rely on copyright law to argue that passing on any of it’s signals without permission (and money) is illegal. In fact, it’s a similar argument to why your local Pub has to pay a higher fee if they show a UFC fight. There is a commercial use of it’s broadcast and so they have a right to take a cut of that. However, no local Pub has to pay for airing the Olympics on regular network TV (if they are still don’t have cable..I know, it’s rare). The problem that networks will face, however, is a small fact that the common viewer does not think about. The airwaves the broadcasts use actually belong to the U.S. government. And ultimately it may take a judge to redefine the rules on who is entitled to what and the extent of copyright protection.
Television fundamentally changed our way of life. And there are so many ways to get it while paying, few of us remember what it was like to get it free. A streaming service like the ones started by Aereo and barrydriller.com is not necessarily free to subscribe to, but still, it will be interesting to see if the courts step in and decide that it’s time to remake their deal with the broadcasters and society itself.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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