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With Aereo Before Supreme Court, Cloud Computing Is Up In The Air

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With Aereo Before Supreme Court, Cloud Computing Is Up In The Air

With Aereo Before Supreme Court, Cloud Computing Is Up In The Air

With Aereo Before Supreme Court, Cloud Computing Is Up In The Air

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Supreme Court is considering the legality of Aereo, an internet service that allows users to stream and record live television. Some fear a broad ruling against the company could have major implications for cloud computing. Zachary Seward, senior editor of the website Quartz, explains more.


From NPR NEWS this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

This week, we've been talking about the growth of Cloud computing. Whether it's backing up your music, pictures, personal files, online storage is big business for companies like Amazon, Google and Dropbox. That's why tech companies are closely watching the Supreme Court case of Aereo, the TV start-up.

BLOCK: The case was argued yesterday. Aereo offers Internet streaming of broadcast TV. And they also offer a Cloud-based service. They give each customer an antenna; customers can record broadcast shows, and store them on Aereo's servers to watch later. So is that a violation of copyright law?

CORNISH: Here to talk more about it is Zach Seward. He's senior editor at Quartz, the online business news site. Welcome to the program.

ZACH SEWARD: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Now, I understand the tech industry has actually weighed in on this case, in a joint filing. Can you talk about whose side they're on and essentially, what they're arguing for?

SEWARD: They're on Aereo's side. And they argued that the Supreme Court should essentially stay out of this issue, and that it's a question better settled by Congress in clarifying copyright law. What they're concerned about is that they don't do precisely the same thing, but one thing they have in common is storing copyrighted material in the Cloud. And if the justices find that that's illegal in the case of Aereo, it's not exactly clear why that wouldn't be illegal in the case of Dropbox or Google or Amazon, etc.

CORNISH: Now, what kinds of questions did the justices ask about Cloud computing, specifically, that help us understand the thinking here?

SEWARD: Well, over and over again, the justices asked the lawyers for the broadcast networks and the U.S. government for suggestions about how they might rule, to find Aereo to be in violation of copyright law but not implicate other Cloud technology. What those lawyers responded with is, in the case of a Cloud storage service - like Dropbox - typically, the consumer has already purchased the song or the TV show or the movie. And they're just using Cloud storage to keep it in the Cloud, in this case, instead of on their computer. And the courts have generally been OK with that.

Aereo is not exactly doing that, right? At no point are Aereo or the consumer paying for the TV shows that they're downloading and putting on the Internet. And so in the view of the broadcasters, that's very clearly a copyright violation. It makes what Aereo is doing quite different.

CORNISH: Now, the justices also seemed to seize on the way Aereo uses the multiple antenna that I mentioned earlier. Why is that signficant?

SEWARD: Well, what Aereo has done is put these - essentially, farms of very small antennas on rooftops in about a dozen cities. And each of its customers at a time gets one antenna. That's a - sort of crazy, very inefficient way to run the service. You might imagine, it would be easier for them just to take down all of broadcast television with one antenna, and then anytime a customer wants to watch a certain program, transmit that program to them. But they do this individual antenna system in order to stay clear of copyright law - at least, in Aereo's view.

CORNISH: So the argument here, from Aereo, is hey, we're just giving people the equipment to do what they could do legally. And it sounds like the broadcasters are saying no, you're doing this to get through the loophole.

SEWARD: Right. There was a judge who viewed Aereo's setup skeptically, and called it a Rube Goldberg-type contraption designed precisely to get around copyright law. And that's essentially how the broadcast networks have viewed what Aereo is doing. But yeah, in Aereo's view, it's no different than you went to Radio Shack, you bought an antenna, you put it in the air, and you connected it to a DVR. And all of those things are perfectly legal.

CORNISH: Zach Seward, he's a senior online editor at Quartz, the online business news site. Thanks so much for talking with us.

SEWARD: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

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