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Public Knowledge wants to protect viewers' right to have
control over how they watch TV. But some major broadcasters are trying to take
that control away from you. They've turned to the courts to stall innovation
and shut down services that give users control. PK has been fighting back.
On Friday, PK (with EFF and CEA) filed an amicus brief defending Aereo in a suit some broadcasters brought against it. Aereo makes it easier for people to watch free, over-the-air TV—something that has become more challenging for some after the broadcast transition to clearer, but less reliable, digital signals. The broadcasters want to argue changing the location of an individual antenna from on top of a TV or a roof is illegal, and that Aereo's "remote antenna" system should be shut down.
Our brief makes three arguments. First, broadcasters are special; they use subsidized public airwaves, and broadcasters’ attempts to shut down Aereo, a service that the public essentially subsidizes, is improper. People have a right to watch free TV without getting a license from the broadcasters. Second, the transmissions that Aereo facilitates are private performances that do not require the permission of the copyright holder—this is a technical legal question, but if the broadcasters had their way, cloud music services, consumer devices, and even some in-home uses of recorded content could become illegal. Third, because this is an appeal of a preliminary injunction ruling—that is, Aereo has not yet had a full trial—the Court should carefully consider the public interest, and the fact that Aereo is causing the broadcasters no real harm.
In addition to our Aereo brief, a few weeks PK filed an amicus brief in the Fox v. DISH case in California. (Admittedly, we did file it a little late—but the case, and related ones, are ongoing.) There, we defended viewers' right to record programming, and to skip commercials when they play it back. This has been legal for decades, and there is no reason it should be changed.
We have also testified before Congress, arguing for policy changes that would increase competition and innovation, allowing TV to catch up with other areas of consumer technology. We even put out a whitepaper on the subject.
The big screen in your living room has not kept up with the technological changes that have drastically improved the little screen in your purse or pocket. This is due, in part, to some incumbent companies who think they should control every last aspect of the viewing experience. PK will continue to do whatever it can to make sure viewers have control over how they watch TV.