Broadcasters’ latest legal target is 2-year-old upstart Aereo—which retransmits over-the-air broadcast television using dime-sized antennas to paying consumers, who can watch TV online or record it for later viewing. The case, before the Supreme Court, may have impact on cloud computing generally, not just on Aereo’s business. A federal appeals court said that Aereo’s service is akin to a consumer putting a broadcast antenna atop their dwelling. Aereo, the appeals court ruled, “provides the functionality of three devices: a standard TV antenna, a DVR, and a Slingbox”
Companies like Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Yahoo, and others are worried that a victory for the broadcasters could upend the cloud. The companies, in trade association briefs, told the justices in a recent filing that the “dramatic expansion of the cloud computing sector, bringing with it real benefits previously only imagined in science fiction, depends upon an interpretation of the Copyright Act that allows adequate breathing room for transmissions of content.”
Consider any file-hosting service that allows people to store their own material, such as Dropbox. What if it can be shown they are storing copyrighted work. Do they need a license?
Mitch Stoltz, an Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney, said in a telephone interview that, “If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the broadcasters, their opinion might create liability for various types of cloud computing, especially cloud storage.”
But, in urging the high court to kill Aereo, the broadcasters said that “The disruption threatened by Aereo will produce changes that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.”