Broadcasters fail to block Aereo from streaming live TV to iPhones, iPads

Imagine your iPhone or iPad as a TV set that receives live, local, over-the-air broadcast signals. A service called Aereo has made that possible, but only for the residents of New York City. They offer all the major networks: NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, Fox, CW, and over 20 other channels. If you have an Internet connection, you can get live TV for $12/month. For many, it's an appealing option to the high cost of cable TV service. Of course, the networks don't like Aereo, and have tried to get it shut down. But yesterday a judge denied a preliminary injunction and ruled that Aereo can continue to offer its service.

The networks claim that Aereo is violating their copyright by recording and reselling its content. Aereo denies it's breaking the law. It argues that it's simply providing a remote antenna for a customer who would otherwise have access to over-the-air signals via a settop or rooftop antenna. And in fact, Aereo has thousands of tiny antennas connected to powerful computers in a warehouse in New York City, each receiving a signal and sending it over the Internet to a particular customer.

Of course, I wondered why people living outside New York City couldn't also sign up for the service and simply say they live in New York City. But apparently the company uses GPS or WiFi to detect your location and eventually cut of service if you're living outside the city.

In denying the preliminary injunction, the judge said that the companies aren't suffering irreparable harm by the service. The companies have said that they're going to appeal immediately. If Aereo can navigate this tricky legal ground, it hopes to offer its service much more widely.

Aereo could hardly be simpler: you sign up and then view live TV via your web browser. It even works with AirPlay and Apple TV so that you can watch the channels on your HDTV. Plus, they offer DVR functions as well.

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I'm hoping Aereo succeeds. Others have tried to offer live TV service via the Internet but have typically been forced to shut down. Aereo has worked hard to be legal, essentially renting a remote small antenna to people with mobile devices so they don't have to lug around a TV antenna with them.

Of course, you can buy a $180 device like SlingBox and provide the service to yourself. You simply connect your video source, such as cable or satellite, to your SlingBox, and it makes it available to you via the Internet.

I think one way or another, over-the-air broadcast TV is going to eventually end up on the Internet, giving you many more options — and hopefully at a lower cost than paying $80/month for a bundle of cable TV channels. And possibly it will be our old friend Apple that will get this model figured out. Clearly they've been trying. Many of the rumors have said that if Apple does come out with a TV late this year or early next year, it will also entail an a la carte selection of TV channels as apps. This would be so cool.

You can read more about the judge’s decision on Yahoo News, and a thorough discussion of the service in Fortune magazine.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.