October 31st, 2005

Is P2P TV Legal?


I have a great morning at work! I am feeling the same excitement I had two year ago when I first started working on VoIP except this time is on another technology. As a matter of principle, I dont blog about my work but just wanted to spread the joy :-)

On another topic, I noticed my entry on P2P TV generated a lot of interest. Someone left a comment : “is this legal?” This is actually a 2-dimension question : (1) are you asking about the technology or the content (2) which jurisdiction?

Lets ignore the jurisdiction for a moment but generally speaking, I don’t see whats legal or illegal about the technology despite what RIAA/MPAA wants you to think otherwise. Just like a knife can be use in both good and bad things, any technology can be used for good and bad things. Do we outlaw TCP/IP because IP packets may be used to help criminals? Do we ban HTTP because it can be used to distribute child pornography? Do we regulate cars because it can kill people? So why are we having this debate on a technology like P2P?

As for the content, I am not a lawyer but let me share a story:

In 1948-52, there is a big mess in the TV spectrum allocation in US and many (small) towns are unable to get any TV signals as FCC stop issuing licenses to re-examine its framework (aka, “The Big Freeze”). During that time, along came a new technology known as “cable”. Entrepreneurs started putting up antennas on hilltop, lay cables through these small towns and then re-transmit over-the-air TV channels through their cable to the homes (charging a fee of cos).

As expected, the TV stations/copyright owners sued the cable for copyright infringement. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1968 in the landmark lawsuit Fortnightly Corp. vs United Artists Television that there is no copyright infringement. And the cable companies went on to become what they are today.

I am not saying this is the same as P2P TV altho it sound similar. What is significant is that with a little tolerance, a whole new industry can be created from a little technology. What’s more important is that eventually the cable companies did find peace with the content owners and in fact, makes more money for them.

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