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What happens when rigorous engineering thought runs head-on into Law?
In a lovely new twist, Aereo has decided to make lemonade out of their lemons -- having had the Supreme Court declare that their operation is illegal because it is, effectively, a cable service that isn't paying licensing fees, they've said that, fine, in that case they would like to actually be treated *as* a cable service, paying the statutory royalties.

I think they've caught the broadcasters flat-footed, and I'll be very curious to see how it plays out. It's probably a desperation move, and I *suspect* that they will fail, but more because of the incoherence of the legal precedents than due to any logic. Rationally speaking, I think they've made a clever argument, but it's very much an engineer's point of view: saying essentially that one medium of transmission is much like another, and since the law is already a bit vague on the topic, there is no sensible reason why the Internet shouldn't be considered to be equivalent to the others.

I hope they win it, and even more, I hope they force the question back to the Supreme Court and get some precedents that make sense. IMO, the Supremes' decision to rule Aereo as a cable system *does* make sense -- but only if you're willing to follow the logic all the way through...

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This is a general Engineering failure mode.

1. The law says "X", we can hack the law!
2. ...

Actually, there's no step two, because a millisecond after step 1, a giant sledgehammer labeled "The Spirit of the Law" comes down and squashes said engineer flat.

Yep. What makes this case interesting, though, is that I think you can make a solid argument that Aereo *is* following the spirit of the law, much moreso than the broadcasters are. I'd shrug this off if it was a simple rules hack, but it isn't.

The argument here is that the authors of the law couldn't anticipate the rise of the Internet, but *intentionally* defined a "cable carrier" in a relatively medium-agnostic way. The key phrase, as pointed out in the linked article, is the definition of a cable system as one that “makes secondary transmissions of such signals or programs by wires, cables, microwave, or other communications channels to subscribing members of the public.” That's an unusually well-designed law, IMO, and actually gives Aereo a fighting shot -- it's hard to argue that the Internet isn't a "communications channel".

Of course, they are up against the rich and powerful broadcasting lobby, and they are fighting against a recent district-court precedent, so I still think the odds are against them. But Aereo has some awfully deep pockets, as well as probably being right legally, so I am not writing them off...

The question is whether the Spirit-hammer ultimately comes down on the people who say "we can hack the law" or the people who say "we can buy the law". *Usually*, the money wins, but I don't think it's a foregone conclusion.

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