As a consumer advocate my heart is with Aereo, a startup that uses tiny antennas (pictured below) to capture broadcast airwaves and stream those signals to users who pay about $8 a month. But as a "content creator" my head is with the broadcasters and the Supreme Court on this one.
Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision that said Aereo is in violation of copyright law, the innovative little company is effectively dead.
So why am I on the side of broadcast and cable giants like ABC and Comcast, which owns NBC? After all, they hold us hostage with 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. If they didn’t, they’d stop creating that content.
The 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 rebroadcast their channels. Consumers then pay the cable companies and get to watch those channels, many of which are not available over the air.
In essence, what Aereo is doing is the same thing the cable companies do – repackaging someone else’s content and selling it to consumers. However, it’s leaving out a crucial step: paying the broadcasters.
While it’s true that the individual consumer can stick an antenna on the roof and watch some content for free, that’s considered fair use, a practice long sanctioned by the law, and it is how the radio and television industries got started. However, that same consumer could not legally capture a signal, even a local one, and then charge admission to his or her home for people to watch it. He’d likely get away with it, but in principal, it’s not legal.
Aereo is doing the same thing, 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? I doubt it; the ruling seems pretty specific, but we’ll have to wait and see.
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 being 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 some have been forced to scramble for freelance assignments that pay less than minimum wage or else 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 they are freelance writers or giant broadcasters that treat consumers poorly.