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Aereo and the Hubris of Innovation

Aereo and the Hubris of Innovation

Aereo LogoIt’s not every day that a copyright news story becomes mainstream news, especially one of the top stories of the day, but that certainly happened with yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling against Aereo.

For those who aren’t aware, Aereo is a TV streaming service that uses a series of tiny antennas, one per customer, to capture over-the-air broadcast television and stream it to customers via the Web. Aereo argued that this was not public performance of the broadcasters’ copyrighted works, but rather, was a series of thousands of private ones. It further argued that it is mere providing and renting equipment, namely antennas and DVRs, which are already legal for customers to use in their homes.

Broadcasters, fearing Aereo could harm the billions per year that they receive in retransmission fees from cable and satellite providers, sued. However, lower courts primarily sided with Aereo, including the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Broadcasters then appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard the case in April and, in a decision yesterday, overturned the lower court rulings.

According to the majority, Aereo functions as a cable company and the technological distinctions aren’t relevant. Further, the majority found that Aereo does publicly perform the works involved meaning its retransmission of television signals without permission is an infringement.

In short: Aereo, functionally, is a cable company and must play by the same rules as a cable company.

Even in the dissent, there wasn’t much love for Aereo. The dissenting judges felt that Aereo should not be allowed, but felt that current copyright law and the current arguments didn’t lay a groundwork for banning it. Instead, they either wanted the matter sent back to the lower court so broadcasters could make new arguments, or sent to Congress for new legislation.

But with Aereo’s defeat has come a slew of editorials and opinions. But among those who are critical of the ruling, one theme has emerged, the idea that Aereo’s defeat is a “Blow to innovation“, an “Attack on innovation” or an attempt to “protect entrenched interests at the expense of innovators“.

Whether you’re for or against the ruling, this language short changes the contributions of content creators and shows preference to one type of innovation over another.

Simply put, technology companies don’t have sole dominion over innovation or being innovators. Content creators are innovators as well and to say otherwise not only discounts their contributions, but their creativity and skill.Continue Reading