Confused by the latest technology and businesses in video streaming? Goodness knows, I find it hard to keep up with which innovative streaming business is illegal, and which is not. Well, along comes James Grimmelmann to clear up which is which and why it is this way. In case you missed it, let me recommend this post, “Why Jonny Can’t Stream: How Video Copyright went Insane.” It appeared in Ars Technica on August 30.

More to the point, it provides a review of the history of copyright law as it pertains to streaming video. Look, everybody who watches the Internet expects streaming video businesses to show up sometime soon and in droves, but — whew, the experimentation is messed up by the law.

Grimmelmann starts with the famous VCR case won by Sony, and then jumps to the recent CableVision case, a ruling that shaped new business models of several prominent and obscure firms. He shows the relationship between the successes and failures, highlighting iCraneTV, Netflix, Hulu, FilmOn, ivi, Zediva, MP3tunes, ReDigi and MegaUpload. Notably, the law shape the businesses in very direct ways. Many of these businesses closed due to lawsuits. Many survive due to ticky-tack legal loopholes. Sustained tests of user demand are secondary.

After providing a reasonable history of all these firms, Grimmelmann then argues that copyright law is not facilitating innovative activity, but, instead, is distorting outcomes away from anything sensible or efficient. After his rendition of what happened and how the law shaped it, it is hard to argue with that conclusion. It sure would make any sensible observer worry about how a few more poorly thought out decisions involving copyright could set back innovation on the Internet.

Let me not spoil it any further for you. If this post were a murder mystery, we would say that there are many dead bodies in this one. Lots of legal gore appears all across the page. The courts are holding the murder weapon. The mayhem is not over.

I recommend it. Give it a read.

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