The fate of a small TV streaming company facing its accusers in a Supreme Court case this week could have big implications for how consumers experience live, streaming TV content over the Internet.
Subscription service Aereo is being accused by the likes of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox of illegally acquiring and re-transmitting copyrighted broadcasts without paying a licensing fee.
"It seems like theft ... it's not much different from drilling a hole into a bank vault," said Jeffrey Stibel, author of Breakpoint: Why the Web will Implode, Search will be Obsolete, and Everything Else you Need to Know about Technology is in Your Brain.
"I think the networks are going to win because if they don't, the reality is it's as bad for the networks as it is for the consumers because when that content gets distributed for free, who's going to produce the quality content that costs millions upon millions of dollars only to know that it's going to be lost to these new companies?" Stibel said.
Aereo frames itself as a kind of antenna rental service that facilitates its subscribers' access via the cloud to video being broadcast live on local airwaves.
"We remain steadfast in our conviction that Aereo's cloud-based antenna and DVR technology falls squarely within the law," the company's CEO said in an email to subscribers last week.
But Aereo's service harkens back to Napster, when that firm was a peer-to-peer music file sharing service facing copyright infringement accusations, according to Stibel. And as with record labels, companies that produce the videos should be the ones to decide how they're disseminated and paid for, Stibel said.
After hearing arguments on both sides of the TV streaming debate on Tuesday, it was still unclear which way the court would rule, according to Adrianne Jeffries, a reporter at The Verge who attended the hearing.
"I think most people expected them to get a little more steamrolled and they held their own pretty well," Jeffries noted.