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Supreme Court Looking for a Way to Kill Aereo

Welcome to National Journal's Tech Edge, a morning tip sheet with the news you need in technology policy, featuring a roundup of the best coverage and exclusive tips for the day ahead. Got this by forward? Sign up at

By Alex Brown (@AlexBrownNJ), Laura Ryan (@NJLJRyan), Brendan Sasso (@BrendanSasso), and Dustin Volz (@dnvolz)


TODAY'S TOP PARAGRAPH: Supreme Court justices were skeptical of Aereo's business model at oral arguments Tuesday, but appear to be looking for a narrow ruling that would not harm other businesses. The FEC will consider two related requests to allow political donations in bitcoin. Lawmakers want to stop ads on pirate sites, and tech companies revealed their latest lobbying spending figures. Glenn Greenwald criticized Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden for not coming forward about the NSA's mass surveillance programs before Edward Snowden's leaks.


JUSTICES SEARCH FOR NARROW RULING: It's always risky to predict Supreme Court cases, but the justices seem to want to shut down online video service Aereo without hurting other companies, such as cloud storage providers. At Tuesday's oral argument, Chief Justice John Roberts said Aereo's whole business model is "based solely on circumventing" copyright law. Justice Elena Kagan said that from the consumer point of view, Aereo is indistinguishable from a cable provider (which pays for the broadcast content).

But the justices also worried about the consequences of a broad ruling in favor of the broadcasters. "I need to know how far the rationale that you want us to accept will go," Justice Alito demanded of the lawyer for the TV networks. Justice Stephen Breyer said he is "nervous" about siding with the broadcasters.


Aereo's best hope for survival seems to be if the justices can't find a way to side with the broadcasters without causing collateral damage. (Sasso, NJ)

COMCAST'S LOBBYING SPENDING DOWN, TECH SPENDING UP: Comcast's lobbying activities have been getting a lot of attention recently, but the cable company actually spent about $3.1 million on lobbying activities this quarter, almost $1.4 million less than Q1 last year. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley heavyweights Apple, Google, and Facebook all witnessed jumps in spending. Apple spent $1.07 million, Google spent $3.8 million, and Facebook spent about $2.8 million in the first three-months of 2014. Other notable filings include the National Association of Broadcasters, which spent about $5.3 million, and AT&T, whose spending dropped to about $3.7 million from $4.3 million.

LAWMAKERS WANT TO STOP ADS ON PIRACY SITES: Reps. Adam Schiff and Bob Goodlatte and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Orrin Hatch urged advertising networks to take steps to prevent their ads from appearing on illicit piracy websites. In a letter Tuesday, the lawmakers (the heads of an antipiracy caucus) pointed to a January 2014 report from Digital Citizens Alliance that concluded 600 sample piracy sites collectively reaped $227 million in annual advertising revenue. The lawmakers applauded recent steps networks have taken to keep their ads off such sites, but added that "much remains to be done … in preventing the appearance of legitimate ads on pirate sites, rather than simply responding once they are placed."

U.S. OUTLINES OPEN INTERNET GOALS FOR BRAZIL MEETING: The two-day NETmundial meeting, which is designed to establish international principles for Internet governance, kicks off today. In a post, the State Department emphasized its support for the global multi-stakeholder approach in overseeing the Internet. Attendees are expected to work on a plan to transfer oversight of domain-name functions away from the U.S.


FRIENDS OF SNOWDEN BLAST WYDEN AND UDALL: Appearing via taped video at a Georgetown University event, journalist Glenn Greenwald chastised liberal Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden for not exposing details of the NSA's mass surveillance programs before the disclosures from Edward Snowden last June. Though the pair is among the NSA's harshest critics in Congress, Udall and Wyden "ran around the country winking and hinting to suggest that something was awry," Greenwald said, but "lacked the courage" to go public with what they knew as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg piled on in a live address, noting Wyden's famous questioning of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last year: "It was Wyden that joined [Clapper] in the deception of the American public."


AMAZON SALES DROP IN STATES WITH ONLINE SALES TAX: Households in states with an online sales tax spent about 10 percent less on Amazon, according to a new report. (Adam Satariano, Bloomberg)

SHARING STARTUPS SAY LAWS DON'T APPLY TO THEM: But lawmakers say not so fast, as AirBnB goes to court in New York over its rental practices. (David Streitfeld, NYT)

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CHERNIN, AT&T TEAM UP ON VIDEO VENTURE: The wireless giant and Chernin Group are investing $500 million in broadband-based video services, after Chernin failed in its 2013 attempt to buy Hulu. (William Alden, NYT)

APPLE ANNOUNCES RECYCLING TRADE-IN PROGRAM, MOCKS SAMSUNG: Ad: "There are some ideas we want every company to copy." (Salvador Rodriguez, LA Times)

COULD COMCAST-TWC MERGER HURT SPORTS FANS? Critics say the TV behemoth—if approved—could lead to higher broadcast fees, greater negotiating power, and a greater stranglehold over sports programming. (Julian Hattem, The Hill)

FEC TO CONSIDER ALLOWING BITCOIN POLITICAL DONATIONS: One group's modest plan to accept bitcoin funding could open a floodgate of issues if the virtual currency and campaign finance worlds collide. (Brown/Volz, NJ)


  • The two-day NETmundial conference in Brazil kicks off. Stakeholders from around the world will gather to discuss global principles of Internet governance.

  • The FCC will consider Universal Service Fund reform at the agency's open commission meeting at 10:30 a.m.

  • The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will host a breakfast discussion on cybersecurity at 8:30 a.m.

  • The FEC will consider two requests to allow bitcoin donations to political campaigns during its open meeting at 11 a.m.

  • Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., will at 12:25 p.m. deliver keynote remarks at the Chamber of Commerce's IP Champions' conference, where he is expected to urge the Senate to pass patent reform.

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Love it - first thing I read in the morning."

Amy, VP of Communications

I read the Tech Edge every morning."

Ashley, Senior Media Associate

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