STLR Link Roundup – April 26, 2014

Aereo at the Supreme Court

The lion’s share of the public attention devoted to this week’s Supreme Court oral arguments was captured by Aereo, an Internet start-up company battling with traditional broadcasters over the future of how Americans watch network television.

Aereo is a for-pay cloud-based television service that allows subscribers to access television broadcasts via their web browser. Unlike other online streaming services such as Netflix, however, Aereo bypasses paying expensive licensing fees to broadcast networks by allowing its subscribers to connect one-on-one to a very small antenna within Aereo’s collection. The antennas “grab” television signals out of the air, send the signals to a DVR, which then plays the programming back to Aereo’s subscribers on their computers or mobile devices—all without paying broadcast networks anything for their content.  In response to the broadcast networks’ claims that Aereo is illegally stealing their copyrighted content, Aereo contends that its service is similar to cloud storage services like Dropbox by providing space on a server for its subscribers to store content.

Based on what transpired during the oral arguments, Aereo appears to be facing an uphill battle.  Many of the justices voiced their disapproval over the possible illegality of Aereo’s service: “[Aereo’s] technological model,” said Chief Justice Roberts, “is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don’t want to comply with.” However, it should be noted that other justices such as Justice Sotomayor voiced concern about how issuing a ruling against Aereo could have negative implications on other players in the tech industry: “What does the Court do to avoid a definition or an acceptance of a definition that might make [other companies such as Dropbox] liable?”

The court’s decision on Aereo is expected sometime this summer.

Federal Court Rules Obama Administration Must Provide Legal Rationale for Targeted Killings

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has recently ruled that the Obama Administration must disclose its legal rationale for the targeted killings of US citizens carried out by drones. The appeals court made its decision in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit bought by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union requesting the disclosure of information about drone attacks abroad—in particular, documents prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel discussing the Obama administration’s legal rationale behind the attacks. At the moment, it is unknown whether the Obama administration will choose to appeal the decision.


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