Launched in 2012, New York-based Aereo allows subscribers to access over-the-air broadcast television (the kind you get for free with an antenna) over the Internet. But it does this without the permission of network broadcasters, like Fox and CBS, a consortium of which has sued the company for copyright infringement – a battle the broadcasters have so far lost.
The reason Aereo manages to not break strict U.S. copyright law is thanks to a so-called loophole that the company ingeniously exploited: Each customer pays $8 or $12 a month – not for the content, but to “rent” an individual antenna and DVR box, which can be accessed by many Internet connected devices. Because Aereo is only providing “private performances” of the broadcasts, it falls on the right side of the law. Were it to allow multiple customers to access broadcast TV channels captured by the same antenna and recorded on a single DVR box, that would constitute a “public performance,” which is illegal without permission from the broadcasters. Needless to say, Aereo is riding a fine legal line – so what exactly are you getting yourself into if you sign up for its service? Let’s find out.
Hard and soft
The company kicks things off by explaining, as mentioned above, that the service it provides is access to an antenna and DVR box via an Internet connection – not for the content itself. In other words, you are paying for use of the hardware, not the “soft” content that it accesses and records.
Home sweet home
Currently available in New York City and, as of May, Boston, Aereo has plans to expand to a total of 22 cities across the US, including Philadelphia, Atlanta, Austin, and Denver, by the end of the year. Now, you might be thinking, “If I can access the content over the Internet, why can’t I just sign up and watch shows broadcast from New York or anywhere else?” Indeed, such at thing is technically possible. Unfortunately, that would be against the rules.
Aereo strictly forbids subscribers from accessing any content that is not broadcast by networks in their specific area. You are required to provide a home address when you register for your account, and signing up with a fake address is completely against Aereo’s ToU. So is sharing your account with someone outside of Aereo’s service areas. (See a list of eligible zip codes here.)
Always a cost
As mentioned, Aereo has two separate plans: $8 a month gets you access to live TV and 20 hours of recording space on a DVR box; $12 a month expands your recording time to 60 hours. You are, of course, also responsible for the cost of your Internet service, or mobile data service.
Aereo sometimes offers users a free trial. This is only available once to each household, so don’t think you can get away with just having your roommates sign up as soon as your free trial is over – that’d be against the ToU.
The company makes clear in its ToU that it may change its prices at any time (as it did last month), and all payments for service are non-refundable.
At the moment, Aereo supports all major Web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer), as well as iPhones and iPads, AppleTV, and Roku boxes. That’s right – no Android. But fear not. The company says Android devices will be supported “soon.” (Whatever that means.)
Intellectual property, serious business
A large portion of Aereo’s ToU concerns intellectual property, both that of content providers and Aereo itself. Of course, it makes clear that “Aereo does not own the copyrights or any other intellectual property rights in any broadcast television programming that you choose to view using the Equipment. Aereo provides only the Equipment that allows you to choose to view such programming.”
This is mainly to cover its rear from the broadcasters that keep suing the company. For users, you need only know that you are not allowed to share you Aereo with non-subscribers, nor are you allowed to use Aereo for any “commercial purposes,” like showing a baseball game in your bar or restaurant.
There’s also a bunch of blather about not violating Aereo’s copyright or trademarks (forbidden), or “reverse engineering” Aereo’s service to start your own company. So, you know, don’t do that.
You must be at least 18-years-old to sign up for Aereo, according to the ToU. And users of an Aereo account who are under 18 must be “under the direct supervision” or a parent or guardian. It is the parents’ fault if any kids manage to watch TV without their permission, says Aereo, because broadcast TV is so scandalous that it might, you know, damage them, or something.
There is, however, one thing you should know about. Aereo allows users to link their accounts to Twitter and Facebook, as well as email providers like Google and Yahoo. When you link an account, there are a couple of things to know.
First, whatever content you post on your social networks are subject to the terms and policies of that social network, not just Aereo. (Obviously.) Second, linking your social media accounts grants Aereo “an irrevocable perpetual license to use, reproduce, edit, create derivative works from, distribute, display, copy, transmit or otherwise use in any way, commercially or otherwise, any material that you post to any social networking site in connection with Aereo.” That potentially means your tweets could end up in an Aereo ad, or something of that nature. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but keep that in mind.
Beware the guillotine
Last but not least, we have my absolutely favorite (/sarcasm) provision, the account auto-delete. As with most other companies, Aereo reserves the right to cancel your account at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. And remember, if this happens, you don’t get a refund. Just remember that before you go sharing your Aereo login with someone outside of a service area – you could both be out of luck in the blink of an eye.