How can AT&T TV even be legal?

See, it seems like it shouldn’t work. And by “it,” I mean pretty much all of it. YouTube, AT&T TV, streaming your DVR to your phone, Hopper with Sling, the whole thing. In the face of what little I know of copyright law, none of it should be legal.

A little bit of history

For example, when a company named Aereo tried about a decade ago to set up a service where you could watch your local channels on your smartphone, the Supreme Court said they couldn’t do it. A generation ago, when CableVision tried to replace everyone’s DVR with one cloud server, the courts said they couldn’t do it. Every sports telecast says it’s for “private exhibition only” but they can’t stop you from watching it on your phone in a public area.

On the other hand, there’s a service called locast which lets you do pretty much the same thing. You can stream local channels to your phone or pretty much any streaming device. The difference is, it’s free. It’s supported by voluntary donations from users and large companies like AT&T. Because there’s no profit involved, it’s been harder for broadcasters to stop.

So what gives?

There’s a little piece of this puzzle that makes everything else make sense: it’s called a contract. See, it’s illegal to send copyrighted content over the internet, unless the copyright holder says it’s ok. See, that’s the real point here. All those court cases that were lost, it was because companies tried to do things that the content providers didn’t want them to do.

How we started to figure this out

After all those cases went against pay-TV companies, they learned something: sometimes you have to ask permission. So AT&T, DISH, and all the others only stream channels when they have the right to do so, in other words when they are paying for the right to do so. So, they have the right to stream to your phone, and when they do, they pay the content provider a little money so it’s all on the up and up.

The public viewing loophole

So what about those “copyrighted telecasts” that “may not be publicly displayed without permission?” Well technically if you are watching a sporting event on your phone where people can see it, you’re breaking the law. The bar and restaurant owners aren’t, because they pay a lot of money for the right to show those broadcasts in public. But while you’re technically breaking the law, this isn’t something that’s likely to blow up in your face. It’s more like taking a grape when you’re at the market. You shouldn’t do it but for now the feds aren’t going to nail you for it.

One last little secret, and how we all look the other way

There’s one more thing that we have to talk about here. It’s the big secret of social media. If we all followed copyright law to the letter, there would be no GIFs, (whether you say “jiff” or “gif with a hard g” is your decision, they wouldn’t be there) no memes, and no YouTube. Because whenever you post or share someone else’s picture, music, or video, you’re technically violating copyright. You’re not asking the content creator first. You’re not getting a written release. Hey, you’re not even attributing the author.

But the little secret is, we all do it, and we know we do it, and it doesn’t matter in most cases. For the most part, the people who create memes want them to be shared. There’s no profit to the people who post. Companies like Facebook have no liability because of really complex user agreements.

YouTube does try to proactively find copyright issues, even though they are also shielded because of the user agreement you didn’t read when you signed up with them ten years ago.

In the meantime…

If you want to get signed up with AT&T TV and get the best streaming entertainment, legally from anywhere, give the experts at Signal Connect a call. The number is 866-726-4182. If it’s after East Coast business hours fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.