Showing posts with label broadcasting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label broadcasting. Show all posts

Thursday, September 2, 2021

SDNY rules against Locast, knifes beleaguered free TV

[UPDATE: At 9:47 a.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 2, I received word that Locast is suspending operations, effective immediately.]  

Locast, an online retransmitter of broadcast television, and the American public together suffered a major blow on August 31, as the federal district court in New York handed partial summary judgment to ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in the networks' copyright infringement lawsuit.

Locast has irritated me, but only for not expanding fast enough.  Where I live, near Providence, R.I., the service is not available.  It is available in New York to the south and Boston to the north, but access is strictly geo-fenced.  As a result, my family cannot see free broadcast TV without springing for an expensive subscription to a cable service or streaming-channel consolidator.

That's not really Locast's fault.  Broadcasters have reduced their power over the years, making free TV incrementally more difficult to access.  I live just nine miles from the broadcast towers that serve the Rhode Island state capital, but I cannot receive any signal with an interior or window-mounted antenna.

Indeed, the networks seem to want out of the broadcast game altogether.  Kickbacks from online consolidators such as Hulu Live and YouTube TV, and the networks' profits from their own services, such as Paramount+ (and Hulu Live, in part), are more lucrative than broadcasting and come with no FCC regulatory strings attached.  Local affiliates, including vital broadcast news outlets, fall through the cracks, wreaking further havoc in our information market, but that's no matter to the bottom line.  Locast threatened to breathe life back into the corpse of free TV, so the networks pursued the service with a vengeance. 

Locast is a non-profit, and its "business" model is simple.  It sets up a technology hub in a place such as Boston and converts local broadcast signals to online streams.  Home cord-cutters thus have their access to free TV restored through the internet service they already have, no antenna needed.

On the face of it, of course, this business model would constitute copyright infringement for copying and redistributing the broadcast signals.  But Congress, in a rare showing of commitment to the public interest rather than to the profit margins of our corporate overlords, built an exemption into the Copyright Act.  Governmental or nonprofit organizations are permitted to retransmit "without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service."

Locast is freely available and supported only by voluntary donations.  But streaming is interrupted at 15-minute intervals by 15-second pleas for donations.  Like the ad-free versions of pay-TV services, Locast offers absolution from these interruptions in exchange for a minimum "donation" of $5 per month.  The $5-donation model proved sufficiently successful that Locast was able to cover its operating costs and use the excess to expand to new markets.

And that, expansion, was Locast's sin, in the eyes of the district court.  Judge Louis L. Stanton opined that Congress could have written "maintaining and operating and expanding" into the statutory exemption, but did not.  So Locast's dedication of additional accounts received to expansion was fatal to its claim of copyright exemption.

I find the court's reading of the statute exceedingly cramped.  Locast plainly is spending money to do precisely what Congress intended: making free TV available to people who cannot receive it without hiring a contractor to install an antenna tower.  That the books must balance within each micro-market rather than across live markets, in the utter absence of evidence that a dime has been diverted to any other objective, absurdly splits hairs.

Locast lawyers, joined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say they are examining the ruling.  Locast announced yesterday that it is for now ceasing streaming interruptions requesting donations. 

There are ways that Locast can work around its current predicament, I reason. Locast has been supported by some major corporate donors who are not old-school TV insiders, such as AT&T, which contributed $500,000.  Internet service providers such as AT&T benefit from Locast, because retransmissions are streamed into homes, rather than broadcast.  With more careful balancing of the books, it should be possible, if cumbersome, to parse operations between discrete markets and to raise capital to support expansion directly.

It's a shame that such gamesmanship should be required for what is clearly a public service.  And a bigger problem might remain for American information and entertainment consumers in the ongoing, if prolonged, death throes of free TV.  We might hope that Congress would obviate the fray with bold measures that would reinvigorate the landscape of electronic expression by enhancing public-interest limitations on digital intellectual property and guaranteeing access to the internet for all Americans.

We also might hope to see pigs take flight.

The case is American Broadcasting Cos. v. Goodfriend, No. 1:19-cv-07136 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 31, 2021). I bet Judge Stanton is one of those people who has both cable and Fubo and can't use either one unless someone helps him with the remote.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Ted Lasso heads to UK, will coach AFC Richmond

From The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Oct. 6, 2020)
A new Apple TV+ show has Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudekis playing southern-drawl-wielding American football coach "Ted Lasso," as he is recruited to coach an English Premier League (PL) soccer squad.

Lasso's fictitious team in the Ted Lasso comedy series is "AFC Richmond," but Sudekis wore an authentic Manchester City FC (my team) hoodie for his interview with Trevor Noah on last night's Daily Show.

Financially regrettably, this show compels my wife and me to re-subscribe to Apple TV+.  We shelved the channel, pending new content, after we finished the highly gratifying For All Mankind (blog), and after I finished the sufficiently compelling if after all tritely pedantic Morning Show (both shows 2019, second seasons forthcoming).

Ted Lasso is a co-creation of Scrubs (2001-2010) creator Bill Lawrence, which scores dispositively in my playbook, though I don't think Lawrence has since re-created that Scrubs magic.  Ted Lasso is a spin-off, or spin-up, of NBC Sports promotional shorts imagining Lasso's appointment as head coach of Tottenhan Hotspur.

 

Incidentally, I'm a consistent critic of NBC's intellectual-property monopoly over PL broadcast rights in the United States.  NBC carves up the PL season so that one would have to subscribe to an impossible, and impossibly expensive, range of commonly owned services to follow a favorite team.  Americans would never tolerate such exploitation of American football broadcast rights.  NBC and the PL are greedily short-sighted, because inculcating loyalty to a single side is essential to sell British soccer to the American viewer in the long term.  It remains to be seen how UK regulators would react were NBC, since merging with Sky, to dare to try such such shenanigans there, where team loyalty is a multi-generational sacrament.  Other sports-loving countries won't have it.

Sports comedy is supremely watchable when it's well executed.  I thoroughly enjoyed Hank Azaria's Brockmire (2017-2020), though I have not watched baseball in many years.  And who can forget comedy-drama Sports Night (1998-2000)?  The West Wing (1999-2006) is too often credited for Aaron Sorkin's introduction of fast cuts and fast-paced dialog into small-screen canon, but it was on Sports Night that he pioneered the art.

The Sudekis interview appeared on The Daily Show just a day after Trevor Noah opened with some Premier League humor (cue to 1:13), noting Aston Villa's defeat of both Manchester United and Liverpool, the latter 7-2.  Noah is a Liverpool supporter.

Here is the trailer for Ted Lasso.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

While U.S. Congress ponders Big Tech oligopoly, Uruguay Supreme Court upholds TV football for all

While our powers-that-be in Congress wring their hands over trying to reconcile allegiance to our corporate overlords with antitrust in the tech sector, a court decision in Uruguay is worth noting.  The Supreme Court of Justice in the country of La Celeste held constitutional a law that compels the free live broadcast of some national soccer and basketball games.

Uruguay v. Costa Rica in World Cup 2014
(Danilo Borges/Portal da Copa CC BY 3.0 BR)

The ruling, sentencia no. 244 de 17 de agosto 2020 (search "244/2020" here), doesn't cover many games.  Explaining the case in 2019, a representative of the appellant Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) told El Observador (Uruguay) that the law would cost the franchise only some of nine Uruguay football qualifiers in four years. AUF still insisted that its economic interests were meaningfully and unconstitutionally diminished by the imposition.

Notwthstanding the limited reach of the ruling, the Court's willingness to abrogate private economic rights to further the public interest is significant.  Accepting the rationale for the law, the Court wrote, "Recuerda y resalta la Corte que la selección uruguaya de fútbol, en función de las hazañas deportivas y copas obtenidas en campeonatos mundiales y juegos olímpicos, forma parte de la identidad nacional y es tópico actual y recurrente en la ciudadanía." ("The Court recalls and emphasizes that the Uruguayan football team, as a function of its sporting achievements and championships won in the World Cup and Olympic Games, forms part of the national identity and is a current and continuing subject among the people.")

The ruling, on article 39 of the Ley de Medios, No. 19307, is one in a series from Uruguayan high courts (e.g., Observacom, Aug. 15) in recent months examining constitutional challenges to a far-ranging 2015 package of populist telecommunication reforms.  Civil rights advocates have hailed the courts' rulings for upholding the constitutional framework of the media law overall.  But business challengers have succeeded in blocking some restrictions, such as a limitation on subscriber numbers for cable TV providers, as unduly burdensome of commercial freedom.  For further example of the mixed results, the Court upheld article 40, which licenses Televisión Nacional de Uruguay to broadcast a game if no other broadcaster bought the rights.  But the Court struck down a subparagraph of article 39 that gave the executive authority to convert matches to free TV by resolution recognizing the public interest.

The telecommunication reforms have been championed by "center-right" Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou, who came to power in March 2020 after a hard-fought election and contested run-off.  Upon a campaign theme of "Uruguay seguro, transparente y de oportunidades," President Lacalle Pou promised to push back against left-leaning policies of the previous fifteen years with a raft of reforms aimed at slashing spending, controlling crime, combating corruption, and realigning foreign policy.  Whether or not he could have delivered, he has been, like leaders around the world, hampered by the coronavirus crisis.

Hat tip at Observacom Executive Director Gustavo Gómez (Twitter) for reporting on the case.

Monday, May 4, 2020

UK football letter roils world sport, and real world, too

Letter posted on Twitter by the AP's Rob Harris
The English Premier League football (soccer) organization wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative in February urging that the United States put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the "Priority Watch List" of countries that fail to protect intellectual property (IP) rights.

The letter has been widely reported beyond the football world for its potential implications in foreign affairs.  Where the United States is concerned, IP piracy is regarded as a critical contemporary problem, on par with national security.  Much of that regard is warranted, as countries such as China, at least historically, have been linked to IP theft as a means to unfair economic advantage, to the detriment of American enterprise.  Some of the sentiment derives from the capture of Washington by IP-wealthy corporations, to the detriment of intellectual freedom.  Regardless, the gross result has been a paper war with nations that countenance IP piracy.  To put Saudi Arabia in those U.S. crosshairs adds a layer of complexity to our already impossibly complicated love-hate relationship with the KSA—read more from James Dorsey just last week—with ramifications from Yemen to Israel.

The letter has potential ramifications within the Middle East, too.  The Premier League's indictment calls out specifically a Saudi-based pirate football broadcaster that calls itself "beout Q" and seems to operate in a blind spot of Saudi criminal justice, even distributing set-top boxes and selling subscriptions in Saudi retail outlets.  The name seems to be a thumb in the nose of beIN Sports, a Doha-based, Qatari-owned media outlet with lawful licensing rights to many Premier League and other international sporting matches.  Saudi Arabia has led the blockade of Qatar since the 2017 Middle East diplomatic crisis, a high note of previously existing and still enduring tensions between the premier political, economic, and cultural rivals in the region.

A 2016 Amnesty International report
was not flattering to Qatar or FIFA.
Football and international sport are weapons in this rivalry.  Qatar has long capitalized on sport as a means to the end of soft international power, winning the big prize of the men's football World Cup in 2022, if by hook or by crook.  Saudi Arabia has more lately taken to the idea of "sportwashing" its image, especially since the Jamal Khashoggi assassination and amid the ceaseless civil war in Yemen.

The letter roiled the world of football no less, as Saudi Arabia has been in negotiation to acquire the Newcastle United Football Club.  That purchase requires Premier League approval.  So everyone and her hooligan brother has an opinion about what it means that the league is so worked up about Saudi IP piracy as to write to the United States for help.

This unusual little letter is a reminder of a theme, known to social science and as old as the Ancient Olympics, that, more than mere diversion, sport is a reflection of our world.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Popular singer's 'right to be forgotten' outweighs free speech in Italian case over archival video and biting commentary

Because Manchester City FC might need it after today's derby match, let's consider the right to be forgotten.

As an aspect of European, and increasingly global, data protection law, "the right to be forgotten," or right to erasure, unsettles the tummies of American media advocates.  The right to erasure runs up against the presumptive rule of U.S. First Amendment law that there can be no punishment for the republication of truthful information lawfully obtained.  Read more about that here (predating implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation).  The Italian Court of Cassation has issued a potentially important decision at the intersection of the right to erasure and the freedom of expression.  

Hat tip @TheItalianLawJournal.  For a few months to come, or until a better translation comes to light, I'm parking a very rough Google Translate rendition of the ruling here in PDF.  The translations that follow here are mine, refining the Google Translate rendering. The original court decision can be found here.


Antonello Venditti by Angela_Anji (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The case stemmed from a TMZ-style confrontation by an RAI-1 "Live Life" («La vita in diretta») crew of Italian singer Antonello Venditti (Facebook) in 2000.  I've not seen the video, but Venditti apparently resisted the interrogators with sufficient gruffness that he earned his way onto the program's 2005 "ranking of the most obnoxious and grumpy characters in the entertainment world."  The story occasioned rebroadcast of the 2000 segment, along with commentary mocking his diminished fame in the intervening years.  Antonello took offense and sued, claiming "a right to be forgotten" attached to the 2000 video. 

Of peculiar resonance with current events in the United States, the Italian court took note of a German right-to-erasure case about "an affair in which a German citizen, who held a major political and business position in Germany, had requested the erasure of information from the web relating to an episode of collusion with Russian crime dating back several years earlier, republished several years after."  The Court of Justice of the EU ruled that "the public's interest in information prevailed over the individual's interest in oblivion."  However, the Italian court observed, the ruling resulted from a fact-intensive inquiry.

The court must engage with "the search for the right balance between the interest of Internet users in information and the fundamental rights of the person," the Italian court explained.  "Therefore, the editor of a newspaper that stores in its historical archive on the internet the news, making it available to a potentially unlimited number of people, is required to prevent, through the dissemination of even remote facts, without any meaningful and current public interest, possible harm to the right to be forgotten by the people who were involved."

The freedom of expression must yield to the right to erasure, the court held, upon analysis according to five factors:

  1. the contribution made by the dissemination of the image or of the news to a matter of public interest;
  2. the actual and current interest in the dissemination of the image or news (for reasons of justice, police, or protection of the rights and liberties of others, or for scientific, educational, or cultural purposes), to be considered absent in case of prevalence of a popular interest [italics added; in original, divulgativo: I'm not sure how to translate that and don't think "popular" or "informed" is right], or, worse, merely economic or commercial interest of the subject that spreads the news or the image; 
  3. the high degree of notoriety of the subject represented, for the economic or political reality of the country;
  4. the methods used, for the particular position held in public life, and, in particular, to obtain and give information, which must be truthful (because it is drawn from reliable sources, and with a diligent research work), disseminated in ways that are not excessive for information purposes, in the interest of the public, and free from insinuations or personal considerations, so as to highlight an exclusive objective interest in the new dissemination;
  5. the preventive information about the publication or transmission of the news or image at a distance of time, in order to allow the interested party the right of reply before its disclosure to the general public.
Applying its multi-factor test, the court decided that RAI's interest in the rebroadcast video segment was outweighed by Antonello's privacy and data protection rights.  The court below had erred by finding Antonello's fame dispositive.  Reminding one of the analysis of Elmer Gertz in U.S. defamation lore, the court held that Antonello's large public following "certainly" did "not invest[ him] with a primary role in national public life."  Moreover, RAI's purpose, five years on, lacked merit. The court found it "undeniable that the reiterated broadcast ... had [the] unique purpose of allowing the inclusion of the singer ... in a ranking of ... 'the most obnoxious and grumpy of the entertainment world,' invented by the same broadcaster, allowing, in this way, the satisfaction of an interest that is exclusively informative [again, divulgativo], for commercial purposes, and for the television operator's audience."  The broadcaster's derogatory comments about Antonello's fame in 2005 aggravated the offense, the court added.  

The court also rejected "satire" as a defense.  The representation of Antonello was not "paradoxical, surreal and hyperbolic critique," but referred to "true fact," "clearly directed to a mere and unjustified denigration of the artist."  The broadcaster sought to use the 2000 video to represent Antonello in 2005 as "a singer, for years, in decline."

This case is the very stuff of American media advocates' nightmares.  Newspapers decry the right to erasure as a threat to online archives—though representations in archives, as archives, are readily factually distinguishable from the Antonello case.  The more realistic threat would be to the "TMZ"/"Talk Soup" format of entertainment media, or even the clever uses of archival video that have become the staple of commentary on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last Week with John Oliver.  Certainly under a rule such as the Italian court employed, broadcasters, even straight news broadcasters, would have to take more care with their use of B roll.  

I've advocated in favor of evolving U.S. privacy law toward European data protection norms.  But the Italian court went too far here, lending credence to American nay-saying.  I fault the court's analysis of Antonello as, in U.S. terms, a "private figure."  The lower court got it right in finding Antonello's public status dispositive relative to this RAI commentary.  It's especially telling and troubling that as to the satire argument—the RAI program seems on the mild side of the Talk Soup genre—the court faulted RAI commenters for the truth in their observation of Antonello's waning fame.  The court set up the Italian judiciary to be a "super editor" of popular media, an arbiter of taste.  American courts appropriately struggle with newsworthiness determinations in privacy law because they do not want that job.