011: Isn’t It Mnemonic?

Also: Free TV!

Jack Benny, Benny Goodman, and Henny Youngman don’t come up in conversation that often. Although, honestly, they probably come up for me more than for most people. And when they do, I always have to stop and remind myself which is which.

Jack Benny was a comedian who played violin. Benny Goodman was a clarinetist who was not a comedian. And Henny Youngman was another comedian who played violin, and whose famous one-liner “Take my wife… please” confounded me for years. I could really use a mnemonic device to help me remember who’s who. Even now I had to look them up to confirm I had that right.

When I encounter such a moment of confusion, I do what people do in the modern age: I ask Twitter for help. And apparently I’ve done that a lot over the years.

Most of those tweets describe honest confusion, but a few of them have some silliness thrown in. I really do have a hard time remembering the difference between Béla Fleck and Roberta Flack, but if I’m honest I can tell the difference between Ben Afleck and the Aflac Duck.

Here are some of the things I’ve tweeted that I need help remembering:

And the very first one I posted:

I welcome your mnemonic device suggestions by email or in the comments. (Did you know newsletters have comments now?) And if there’s something that you constantly get mixed up, maybe the crowd can source a mnemonic for you, too.

The Streaming TV Service That Wants To Be Free

So, you’re a cord cutter. You subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and maybe you saw my recommendation about Kanopy a few issues ago. That’s great for on-demand viewing. But what do you do about live TV?

Locast is a service that streams local over-the-air TV. It includes all the major networks plus those obscure antenna channels like MeTV, Ion, Buzzr, and so on. And there is a Locast app for pretty much every platform.

And the price? It’s free! Sort of. How? It’s complicated.

You might remember a service called Aereo. Several years ago, they offered to stream your local over-the-air TV and even had DVR features. They argued that because they actually used a separate TV antenna and tuner for each subscriber, it was like you actually had your own antenna and they were just sort of maintaining it for you. So they didn’t have to pay what’s known as a “retransmission fee” to the broadcasters like all the other streaming services that offer local television. Well, the networks sued, and the Supreme Court agreed that Aereo was breaking the law. That was the end of Aereo.

But Locast takes a different approach. Locast formed as a non-profit, which they argue makes a difference because the Copyright Act of 1976 gives non-profits more leeway in claiming fair use. As explained by the government’s own page on fair use:

Courts look at how the party claiming fair use is using the copyrighted work, and are more likely to find that nonprofit educational and noncommercial uses are fair.  This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair.

All clear? Fair use isn’t very cut-and-dry. The doctrine describing fair use is actually a list of considerations for deciding whether or not something is fair use, and not a clear list of situations that would definitely be fair use. The only way to know for sure that your use of copyrighted content is fair use is to get sued, claim fair use as a defense, and see if the courts agree.

So Locast was just waiting to be sued.

In fact, a January 2019 headline in the New York Times said explicitly: “Locast, a Free App Streaming Network TV, Would Love to Get Sued.”

And sure enough, that was followed up in July 2019 with: “CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox Sue to Stop Locast, a Free Streaming Service.”

And two months later came the countersuit: “Locast, a Free Streaming Service, Sues ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.”

And now the cases are making their way through the legal system. Just a few months ago, Locast’s founder David Goodfriend said he’s “very optimistic” about prevailing in court.

And things get a little more complicated when we’re talking about broadcast television, which travels over the airwaves that the public owns. Should the public have to pay broadcasters for access to it, when they could get it for free with an antenna?

So while the courts decide whether or not to free free TV, Locast is available in 25 markets and growing. You can watch for free, but only for 15 minutes at a time, after which your stream is interrupted to remind you that Locast is a non-profit that could use your donation. Or, you can donate $5 per month to remove those interruptions. Does that really make it a cheap subscription service? And if so, should that affect the court ruling?

Stay tuned.

That’s it for today. See you next week! And if you’re new here, be sure to check out the archive.

David

P.S. Wear a mask when you go out. Wash hands when you get in. Flatten the curve. (I can’t believe we’re back to that. But have you seen the curve lately? Yikes.)