Adios Aereo, and take your illegal technology with you

If content is free, no one could afford to create it, and the Supreme Court got it right in ruling against Aereo

To the barricades, shouts Chet Kanojia, CEO of the Aereo streaming service that the Supreme Court declared illegal last week. We don't deserve to die and we want you to demand that Congress write a law to bring us back because we're the consumer's best friend.

Baloney -- although Aereo used clever technology and offered an attractive service, the company ripped off others' intellectual property. As a consumer advocate, my heart was with Aereo, but as a content creator, my head is with the broadcasters and the Supreme Court on this one.

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As you probably know, Aereo is a startup that uses tiny antennas to capture broadcast airwaves and stream the signals to users who pay about $8 a month for the service. Now the innovative little company is effectively dead, done in by a decision that said Aereo is in violation of copyright law.

I was glad to hear it. Anyone who cares about their intellectual property -- whether it's a TV program, an article, an app, or a million lines of code -- has a real stake in patent and copyright protection. Our patent system is generally a mess, but the principle is worth upholding: You can't simply repackage somebody else's work and sell it as your own.

A rip-off is a rip-off

Why am I on the side of broadcast and cable giants like ABC and Comcast, which owns NBC? After all, they hold us hostage to bundled deals that force us to pay for channels we never watch, keep raising prices, and provide awful customer service.

Despite all that, the broadcast networks create content that we watch and enjoy. Like those companies or not, they and their shareholders deserve to profit from the use of their intellectual property. Indeed, if they didn't, they'd stop creating that content.

That's no different than the case of a company that creates innovative software or a lifesaving drug. Their work is protected by patents and copyrights; if it weren't, how could they stay in business? Sure, trolls and others abuse the system, but intellectual property needs protection.

Very simply, the TV business model works like this: Broadcasters create content or buy it from production companies. Cable companies pay billions of dollars to broadcasters to package and transmit over their channels. Consumers then pay the cable company to watch those channels, many of which are not available over the air.

In essence, Aereo is doing the same thing as the cable companies: repackaging someone else's content and selling it to consumers. However, it's leaving out a crucial step: paying the broadcasters.

Aereo disagrees, stating on the Protect My Antenna website:

The spectrum that the broadcasters use to transmit over-the-air programming belongs to the American public and you should have a right to access that programming whether your antenna sits on the roof of your home, on top of your television, or in the cloud.

That's bogus, self-serving reasoning. While it's true that the individual consumer can stick an antenna on the roof and watch broadcast content for free, that's considered fair use, a practice long sanctioned by the law. It's also how the radio and television industries got started. However, that same consumer could not legally capture a signal, even a local one, then charge admission to his or her home to people who want watch it. He'd likely get away with it, but in principal, it's not legal.

Aereo was doing the same, but on a much larger scale, and that's why the Supreme Court says it has to stop. Will that ruling be applied to other cloud technologies and providers? Aereo's lawyers argued that it would, but my colleague David Linthicum disagrees.

Content should not be free
Frankly, I feel the same way about my work, and I greatly resent it when articles I write are vacuumed up by certain websites and republished without a penny tossed in my direction. I'm fortunate to have some excellent paying clients that treat me fairly. But many of my fellow journalists do not, and they've been forced to scramble for freelance assignments that ultimately pay less than minimum wage or to leave the business they love.

It's easy to say content should be free or at least incredibly cheap. But content providers need and deserve to be paid, whether it's a freelance writer or even a giant broadcaster that treats consumers badly.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill@billsnyder.biz. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Adios Aereo, and take your illegal technology with you," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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