The year: 2013.
The idea: A company called Aereo found a way to exploit a loophole in the FCC’s key set of laws and rules to try to create a subscription TV service without paying broadcasters for the content.
The problem: Broadcasters want to get paid.
Aereo may have had a good idea, but the real issue here was that everyone knew that at the heart of it was a trick, and what they were doing wasn’t right. It was so wrong in fact that it threatened the entire fabric of our copyright system. And our government was content to sit back and let it happen.
See. Aereo’s idea was simple — the rules said that you only had a subscription TV service if you used one antenna to distribute to many people. And if you weren’t a subscription TV service, you didn’t have to pay broadcasters. So they created tiny little antennas, one for every user, and put them within feet of the broadcast towers. One antenna, one person, so no payments to broadcasters.
Except obviously that was stupid, because obviously what Aereo was doing was acting just like a pay-TV service. The FCC sat back and did nothing. Nothing. All they would have had to do was make a rule change that says if you charged for the service you needed to pay broadcasters, no matter how many antennas you had. And they didn’t do that.
Instead, they let the courts duke it out, and in November 2013, I reported that the case was going to the Supreme Court. How stupid! A simple rule change would have done it but instead the FCC just punted.
Here’s what eventually happened: The Supreme Court finally got around to hearing the thing two months later, and said, essentially, DUHHHH, of course you can’t do that. Shortly after, the company known as Aereo slunk back into the corner and died of starvation.
I don’t know about you but keeping in mind the FCC is part of the Executive Branch… when they were too lazy to even change one simple rule using common sense, that’s when I lost hope for the Executive Branch as a whole.