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The VCR's legacy shines brightly at YouTube and Aereo

Ian Paul | April 16, 2013
Google pays homage today to the 57th anniversary of the first commercially available videocassette recorder. But that gadget didn't simply enable us to record daytime TV for evening viewing; it soon forged a legal precedent for the next generation of home entertainment technology.

The heart of Aereo's case, according to the Harvard Business Review, relies on the argument that each individual person rents their own individual antenna and DVR. Customers receive broadcasts only from that antenna and to that specific DVR. In other words, if 3 million Aereo users were to record the Super Bowl, Aereo doesn't make one copy of the broadcast and distribute it to them all. Instead, each of those 3 million people has their own original copy of that broadcast to watch privately. What's the difference if that antenna and DVR sit in your home or in a massive warehouse?

Aereo's argument is based on a court victory by Cablevision in 2009 concerning its remote DVR service, which let you record and store programming for later viewing in a Cablevision data center rather than a set-top box at home. Just like with Aereo, Cablevision recorded individual copies of each program for every subscriber. Cablevision's case relied on the Betamax ruling just as Aereo is relying on the Cablevision case. So you could call the current copyfight over Aereo the grandchild of the Betamax issue.

Just as with Betamax and Cablevision, entertainment companies have so far faced legal setbacks in their attempts to stop Aereo in its tracks. Some broadcasters--including CBS, Fox, and Univision--are even threatening to stop over-the-air broadcasts altogether if they can't put Aereo out of business.

Aereo is currently available exclusively in New York City, but the company plans to expand to other cities in the future.


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