TV Answer Man
How Is US TV Now Legal?
Washington, D.C. (July 20, 2014) - Editor's Note: TV's Answer Man, aka Swanni, takes your questions regarding how to best use the latest products and services in TV technology. If you have a question about TV technology, ask TV's Answer Man by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. How can the courts rule that Aereo is illegal when no one says a thing about USTVNow.com? You can watch the networks on USTVNow.com for free! -- Brian, Detroit.
Brian, as you note, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that local channel service Aereo violated the copyrights of the broadcast networks by transmitting their signals over the Internet without paying them.
Aereo, which charged a minimum of $8 a month for its service, is now petitioning the court to be classified as a cable service so it can pay a licensing and/or retransmission fee to the networks. This would enable Aereo to continue operations. The request is likely a long shot, but Aereo, which suspended operations after the court's decision, says it's hopeful and at least one network (CBS) has said it would be open to negotiating a content deal with the company.
Now, as for USTVNow.com. The streaming service, which is available on computers, mobile devices and Roku, offers the live signals of six networks (CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, NBC and The CW) for free if you are a U.S. citizen who holds a U.S. passport (or you have a Green Card) and you are currently in a foreign country.
(The network signals come from network affiliates in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area; so if you're thinking of using US TV Now to watch the New York Giants or New England Patriots every football week, you're out of luck. However, you would get to see a lot of games played by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.)
The free plan includes a high resolution version of the signals for 45 days. After that, you will only be able to watch the signals on your computer at a low resolution unless you upgrade to a paid plan.
The paid plans include a $2.99 one-day pass and monthly subscriptions that start at $19.99 a month and rise to $29.99 a month after three months. There's also a DVR service available as part of a $39.99 a month plan.
Before you say the paid plans are too expensive, they include not only the six free network channels, but a host of basic cable channels including A&E, Bravo, Cartoon Network, Discovery Channel, Fox News, CNN, National Geographic, Spike, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT, USA Network and several others.
There's even a plan if you want HBO or Showtime.
As I said, US TV Now is designed for military personnel and others who are traveling abroad so they don't have to miss their favorite shows while away from home.
But hold the phone. It appears that the service has a loophole -- one large enough for any individual in the United States to jump through.
When you sign up at USTVNow.com, the site asks for your name and e-mail address. And it asks to name the foreign country where you will be watching.
See what I just wrote. It asks for the name of the foreign country. There's no requirement of proof. So, by example, if you say your country of choice will be Mexico, USTVNow.com allows you to set up an account and watch those six network feeds for free and/or sign up for one of the more comprehensive plans. Right here in the United States.
Of course, this would be in violation of the US TV Now standards and policies, but there doesn't appear to be any mechanism in place to stop it.
So, is this legal? Isn't this just another version of Aereo, although US TV Now's stated policy is to only offer the signals to people outside the country, and therefore not compete directly with network stations in the U.S.?
Well, unlike Aereo, USTVNow.com says that it already pays for content. If that's true, then it has the right to distribute the signals as their agreements permit.
I suspect the networks would not be amused if a large number of people in the U.S. were claiming Mexico or Canada as their place of viewing. But as best as I can tell, the networks haven't issued any protests.
Not yet anyway.
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