copyright question Dear Doc:

I used to have “rabbit ears” on my TV. On stormy nights, I had to stand “just so” near the left ear to see channel 17, but other than that, it worked just fine. Then the electronics companies and the gub’ment told me that I needed “digital” TV or cable. Now, I like Leave It To Beaver as well as the next guy, but I was not gonna pay $75 a month for that stuff! So I went and got a digital adapter, plugged in my rabbit ears, and quicker than you can say, “Gee Wally!” I had… SNOW. And glitches. And buzzing sound. A whole lotta nuthin’ for my trouble. Don’t get me wrong…Not having TV has saved me lots of time, but I hear there’s a new company called Aereo that will put up an antenna in a good place, link it to a digital video recorder, and let me use the whole thing on the Internet for $8 a month. Is this too good to be true? Can they really do that? How does it work? Won’t the TV stations sue them into the ground? Isn’t that June Cleaver one hot lady?

Eddie Haskell

Dear Eddie:

You sure ask a lot of questions for a fictional character! Oh well, here goes:

The FCC, when it set up the “digital transition” for television, calculated reception as follows: “Signal strength calculations are based on the traditional TV reception model assuming an outdoor antenna 30 feet above ground level. Indoor reception may vary significantly.” If you had that kind of antenna, you were in for some great viewing. If not, well, tough luck.

Aereo is a company that has developed a tiny (postage stamp-sized) digital television antenna. They put thousands of them on panels and mount them on buildings where the digital TV signal is strong and clear. Then they link each antenna to a multi-tuner and a DVR, and put that online on the Internet. As long as you live in an area where the broadcast signal could reach you if you had the right antenna, you can sign up for the service for $8 a month (or $80 a year). You then use your computer, tablet, or smartphone (even when you’re not at home!) You only get the stations that broadcast over the air for free (not cable channels) but in major cities, there are a lot of those. As the company president said recently, “The last time I checked, there’s no need to have Desperate Housewives or the Real Housewives of Orange County running on four channels at the same time.”

You are also correct that as soon as they heard about this, the TV stations and networks (Fox, PBS, Univision, ABC/Disney, CBS, NBC) sued Aereo in Federal Court. They claimed that the company was violating copyright by rebroadcasting their signals (see, this IS about copyright law after all!) The TV stations and networks wanted an injunction against Aereo to stop it from doing business. The District Court denied this request, finding that a prior decision in favor of the cable operator CableVision, which provided a DVR service to its customers that operated on big servers, rather than on set-top boxes was legal, also favored what Aereo was doing. The TV guys filed an appeal, of course, and on April 1 (no joke) the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the trial court’s denial of an injunction in a 2 to 1 decision. The case will now be scheduled for trial some time in the future, but Aereo has announced that it will expand beyond the New York market to 22 more cities by July 2013. You can go to to see if the service will be coming to an Internet near you, so that you can finally put away those rabbit ears for good.

So there you have it. It’s likely that Aereo’s service will not be shut down by the lawsuits, because it fits an important exception written into the Copyright Law by Congress. It’s likely that many will use the service, and that Aereo will someday do deals with the cable operators to expand the programming that they offer, thus increasing the price. It’s likely that you will still be able to watch Leave It To Beaver. And yes, Eddie, that June Cleaver is one smart, beautiful woman, who can cook a mean pot roast while dressed in pearls and high heels, while being a great mother and wife (and is WAY smarter than her husband.) Please though – no jokes about how Ward disciplines his younger son.

Yours truly,

The “Doc”

aero antenna

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.