Ali Sternburg

Yesterday, it was reported that Community, which had been canceled by NBC in May, was just picked up for a sixth season (at least) by Yahoo.

The creation and distribution of original programming by new entrants is a growing phenomenon.  Traditional over-the-air broadcast television is no longer the sole source of episodic programming.  As DisCo has previously noted, shows like House of Cards and Alpha House have risen to fame on web-based services like Netflix and Amazon, entirely in the absence of network backing.  Just as record labels are no longer the sole gatekeepers to music production, it is increasingly clear that television networks are no longer the gatekeeper to serialized video content.

Increased competition and disintermediation in the market for video content is unmistakably a good thing for consumers, who have more options for entertainment than ever before, and for creators and entrepreneurs, who can produce programming without needing permission or funding from existing gatekeepers.  This allows for more risk-taking and creative choices, without having to worry about what incumbents find desirable.


The long-awaited Aereo opinion is out.  The Second Circuit was reversed 6-3, and it’s not encouraging for the cloud industry, as we feared.  (This appears to be 2(a) in Matt’s list of possible outcomes, more of a broad reversal than a narrow reversal.)

Matt has written several posts on how this case impacts the cloud industry ([1], [2]).  He explained that while the broadcasters may not intend to go after the cloud, any argument that attempts to just eliminate Aereo would also implicate cloud services.  And in fact, several members of the Supreme Court were concerned at oral argument (which I attended) with the effect of this decision on the cloud, although this was not sufficiently represented in the majority opinion.

The United States government had filed an amicus brief arguing that the Court could find Aereo unlawful while simultaneously not threatening the cloud, but as Matt explained, this is not possible.  (The majority, however, appears to have been persuaded by the U.S. government’s argument, as I explain below.)

Not only does this decision against Aereo potentially affect the cloud industry for legal reasons, but it is likely to deter investment in innovative new services.  The certainty provided by Cartoon Network LP, LLLP v. CSC Holdings, Inc., 536 F.3d 121 (2008)) (popularly known as Cablevision) led to additional investment in U.S. cloud computing companies ranging from $728 million to $1.3 billion during the two years after the decision.  (Cablevision also happens to be the case that Aereo’s business model heavily relies upon.  As explained below, the majority does not cite the case, which is odd.)  Today’s decision may mean that the next Aereo is unable to secure funding from investors.  And that’s bad for everyone.

Some initial takeaways from the majority opinion:

First of all, the split was unique for copyright cases.  The majority opinion was written by Justice Breyer, who has often been on the side of limited copyright and increased innovation.  (See, e.g., his opinion in Kirtsaeng, and his dissents in Eldred and Golan.)

1. Breyer starts off by calling Aereo a “technologically complex service”

This is not a good start.  That is reminiscent of the ‘Rube Goldberg’ argument, but Aereo should not be faulted for designing a system that complies with the law.  The majority does not even cite the main precedent Aereo relies on, Cablevision, except for in a parenthetical.  This signifies that a results-oriented decision is to follow, rather than one that follows the law.  It also may implicate the broader cloud storage industry, if how the technology works does not matter to the Court.



Today CCIA launched, a new site to promote competition and choice in the TV set-top box marketplace, and to encourage consumer advocacy around this issue.

While CCIA has supported Congress’s renewal of STELA, which expires at the end of the year, CCIA has denounced attempts by some lawmakers to add anticompetitive provisions into STELA that would undermine the FCC’s statutory consumer protection mandates regarding open standards for electronic boxes that can access both your cable programming and online video.

This issue is consistent with CCIA’s mission at its founding more than 40 years ago – to raise awareness when incumbent companies try to snuff out competition and innovation.  From fighting for the ability of third party developers to write independent software for IBM mainframes, to championing the right of consumers to plug non-AT&T devices into their wall jacks, battles CCIA has supported have been critical to the thriving tech industry we have today.  The mainframe battle paved the way for the entire software industry and rise of Silicon Valley.  The third party device issue resolution resulted in innovations like the first cordless phones, answering machines, fax machines, computer modems and game consoles.

While it’s impossible to fully predict what further innovations could result from consumers having more freedom to watch content on the device of their choice, it is clear that Big Cable is resisting change even while more efficient methods of accessing TV and other content are emerging.  The hope in launching this website is to help consumers understand that ability to choose is at risk in Congress right now so they can make their views known before it’s too late.  Consumers will be the losers if dominant businesses can legislate challengers out of the game.


One might conclude Kevin Spacey has a finger on the pulse of the culture market: he bet heavily on the dark political series House of Cards when pundits scoffed at all-at-once Internet-only distribution [1, 2, 3] — now a smashing success.  Spacey will also soon feature as the arch-villain in the next installment of the best-selling Call of Duty video game (trailer), at a time when A-list actors are not often associated with gaming.  The Call of Duty franchise, however, is expected to generate at least $1B in revenue later this fall — an annual figure that the Hollywood box office can only dream of.

On top of his forward-thinking choices in roles, he has also spoken publicly about fighting piracy through alternative distribution models.  Spacey has previously said on at least two occasions, in May 2013 and in August 2013, that piracy can be reduced by giving the people what they want, when they want it, at a reasonable price.

This week, Spacey made a comment at the amusingly pirate-themed International Indian Film Academy awards about House of Cards being popular in India, adding that since Netflix doesn’t exist in India, they’re “stealing” it.  While reports differed on whether Spacey’s comment was serious or in jest (or, even, whether House of Cards is not available in India) the remark is consistent with his understanding that piracy is reduced when consumers have lawful convenient affordable options to watch what they want to watch.


This morning, I attended the ABC v. Aereo oral argument at the Supreme Court that Matt previewed this morning.  (To be more specific, I got there last night at 7pm and camped out for more than 12 hours.)  Below are 8 of my takeaways from the argument, featuring quotes from the preliminary transcript:

  1. Unintended Consequences

The Court is obviously concerned about unintended consequences, including (and especially) for the cloud.  Justice Breyer in particular pressed this argument to the broadcasters’ lawyer, Paul Clement, who didn’t appear to effectively dissuade him.

JUSTICE BREYER: [A]re we somehow catching other things that really will change life and shouldn’t, such as the cloud?  And you said, well, as the government says, don’t worry, because that isn’t a public performance.  And then I read the definition and I don’t see how to get out of it.

  1. Deference to Cablevision

The Court was very willing to discuss Cablevision, a crucial Second Circuit case, but one that is not binding in the Supreme Court.  Justice Kennedy brought up a hypo about Cablevision being law to the broadcasters and the government.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Just assume that CableVision is our precedent.  I know that it isn’t, but let’s just assume that it is.  How would you distinguish the CableVision from your case and how is it applicable here?  Assume that it’s binding precedent.  Just that’s a hypothetical.

  1. Interest in Sony, Fair Use

Despite not being an issue that people frequently talk about regarding Aereo (perhaps because it did not come up in Cablevision because it was waived), fair use, and particularly the precedent from Sony, came up a few times from Aereo’s lawyer, David Frederick.

MR. FREDERICK:  In Sony, this Court held that consumers have a fair use right to take local over-­the-­air broadcasts and make a copy of it.  All Aereo is doing is providing antennas and DVRs that enable consumers to do exactly what this Court in Sony recognized they can do. . . . MORE »


DJ and mashup artist Girl Talk, who has “repeatedly stated that if he’s sued he believes he has a strong fair use defense,” released a new EP yesterday, along with a video for one of the songs, for which he cleared the samples, explaining “I think about each work separately and consider whether it qualifies for fair use or not. In this case, we needed the clearance.”  This exemplifies that copyright questions over works which use parts of existing works, such as music sampling, generally have to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

Exactly a year ago (total coincidence) I wrote a post entitled Can You Infringe Copyright In Six Seconds?, about then-new service Vine and potential copyright considerations for six second clips of content.  I discussed some key music sampling cases (Bridgeport and Newton v. Diamond), to see what we could draw from those precedents, but that law is far from settled, as there continues to be litigation over music sampling.  On the issue of how much of an existing work can be lawfully used in a new work, it’s clear that it’s still very much an open question.  I’ll explain some recent cases below.



This post is part of the Disruptive Competition Policy Forum recap series.

Details below. MORE »


This post is part of the Disruptive Competition Policy Forum recap series.

Details below. MORE »


DMCA Month Continues

by Ali Sternburg on March 19, 2014

Lately it seems like it’s all DMCA all the time.  In addition to last week’s hearing on Section 512, and yesterday’s announcement that Viacom and Google settled their seven-year copyright litigation involving the safe harbors, tomorrow the PTO and NTIA are holding a multistakeholder forum on the notice and takedown system.  (Eric Goldman also informs us about a CafePress suit over Section 512 safe harbors, and Eriq Gardner reminds us that there is a verdict forthcoming in the MP3Tunes case.)

Tomorrow’s PTO/NTIA event comes out of last summer’s Commerce Department Green Paper, and is not a rehash of the hearing; the timing is merely coincidental.  Despite the similarity in subject matter, the goals of these inquiries are very different.  Whereas the hearing explored policy questions about the design and effectiveness of the DMCA, the PTO and NTIA’s stated objective is different.  The Federal Register notice explains the Commerce Department’s intentions:

[T]he Task Force stated its intention to establish an open multistakeholder forum aimed at improving the operation of the notice and takedown system for removing infringing content from the Internet under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

. . . .

The goal of the open multistakeholder forum is to provide a collaborative forum through which stakeholders will identify best practices and/or produce voluntary agreements for improving the operation of the DMCA notice and takedown system.

Thus, Commerce is focused on improving the operation of the existing statute and the existing processes under the law, rather than changing them.

As agencies, Congress, and courts consider the DMCA notice and takedown provisions, it’s important to keep in mind that no amount of enforcement is going to work if there aren’t easily-accessed lawful alternatives.

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It’s been a while since DisCo has reported on Uber, the startup that is known equally for its app that connects passengers with drivers and for doing a remarkable job engaging its users to challenge local governments and incumbent taxi companies.  One of the cities in which Uber is currently facing an existential threat is Houston.

On Sunday, Team Uber Houston wrote a blog post calling Houston to action, including a petition (which was signed by more than 10,000 people) and information on a City Council hearing on Tuesday.  And yesterday, Team Uber Houston put out another post with the shocking information that the City of Houston is trying to silence its citizens.

Please consider this as a formal demand that your client, Uber, cease and desist from transmitting or aiding in the transmission of form e-mails to City officials regarding the adoption of an ordinance to accommodate their enterprise. Despite my informal request to you by telephone on Monday, the excessive number of e-mails has gone unabated, to the point that it has become harassing in nature and arguably unlawful. Failure to cease and desist will be met with appropriate action by the City.

Elected officials censoring their constituents for complaining about an ordinance that affects them is a little bit ironic.  (Their job, in theory at least, is to legislate and serve their constituents… which entails people telling them what they are upset about.)  And by sending Uber this letter, which Uber fortunately publicized, the City of Houston is only further emboldening Uber and its customers to fight for competition.