Court says pay to play in television

The mantra among Internet cognoscenti is “Information wants to be free.” What’s strange is that many who argue that often are looking to profit off that information even if it belongs to or was produced by somebody else.

And in the free info debate, time and time again, the Supreme Court has come down on the side of intellectual property rights over technology. The latest decision comes in the case of Aereo, the $100 million digital start-up that has much of its operations in the Innovation District in South Boston.

Aereo offers – for the very short-term, at least – a service for $8 to $12 a month for customers to stream or download and record the broadcast stations of the biggest networks. Viewers use dime-sized antennae provided by the company to capture the airwaves and bring the programming home to their computers, tablets, smartphones, or any Internet-connected device. Aereo founder Chet Kanojia, a Northeastern graduate, argued the business is providing customers with the same content they could otherwise get with their own antennae on television.

Well, not so much, said the Court in a 6-3 decision written by Justice Stephen Breyer . Breyer said Congress changed the copyright laws in the mid-1970s to deal with the nascent cable industry to make sure those who spent the money to produce content were paid for their efforts and property. Aereo, he writes, may have some whiz-bang technology to offer but, in the end, it’s the same as a cable box or satellite dish .

“Insofar as there are differences, those differences concern not the nature of the service that Aereo provides so much as the technological manner in which it provides the service,” Breyer wrote.

Unsurprisingly, the networks hailed the decision while the tech industry screamed that it would put a clamp on development and innovation. Breyer took pains to note the ruling was limited, writing that the decision won’t “discourage the emergence or use of different kinds of technologies.” Try selling that one to the skeptical masses.

“An even worse dystopian possibility is that this opinion will chill innovators who want to rely on legislative text to develop innovative technological workarounds,” Internet law attorney Eric Goldman writes in Forbes. “But so many of our most cherished technological tools made exactly that kind of end-run on incumbents. If this opinion discourages that kind of innovation, we as a society will be poorer.”

Some argue this decision could provide leverage to others in a wide-variety of technology, entertainment, media, and information industries to wield against start-ups looking to infringe on their investments without paying. Think cloud computing. Some of the storage services, such as Dropbox and Apple’s iCloud, as well as DVR manufacturers, had expressed concerns an adverse ruling for Aereo could have ripple effects on them.

It’s a decision somewhat akin to the ruling against Napster, the fledgling peer-to-peer music sharing service that was forced to change its business model after a successful copyright violation suit by the music industry in 2000. Napster changed to a pay model that has had minor success but was never the behemoth the founders and users had hoped.

But while many bemoan the tarp they think is being thrown over innovation, overlooked is the effect it has on those who produce the content and see their livelihood handed out like free drink samples outside South Station.

“On the way to making millions for its owners and investors, Napster has yet to give anything to artists other than the chance to spread their music, for free, and whether they like it or not,” jazz legend Herbie Hancock wrote in the preface for the 2008 book Sonic Boom:Napster, MP3, and the New Pioneers of Music. “Its supporters hide behind claims labels misuse artists or consumers, as if that entitles them to take everything they want for free…Although the appeal to consumers is obvious – who wouldn’t want free music? – the law and common morality forbids stealing.”

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he never traded Probation jobs for votes. As for the ethics of allowing fellow lawmakers to hand out Probation jobs, he says he has not transgressed “any laws, any other rules, or anything of any sort,” State House News reports.

Many motorists are angry about an upcoming hike in fees at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The House passes a PAC disclosure bill, the Associated Press reports.

Gov. Deval Patrick prepares to sign into law legislation hiking the minimum wage from $8 to $11 by 2017, the Herald reports. Ikea is building a higher minimum wage using an MIT Living Wage Calculator, which will boost the average wages at US stores to $10.76 an hour on Jan. 1, Time reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Two firehouses are declared surplus property in Lawrence and Lawrence General Hospital is reportedly interested in renting them after receiving an ambulance contract from Mayor Daniel Rivera, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Plymouth Kiwanis Club invited the Cole Brothers circus to town for its annual show last week even after Town Meeting had voted to ban the display of exotic animals. The town’s bylaw has not yet been certified by the Attorney General’s office.

The Dracut Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to send a letter to state officials asking for the dismissal of the governor’s appointee to the Dracut Housing Authority because of alleged R-rated behavior, the Sun reports.

CASINOS

Speaker Robert DeLeo warns about budget cuts since the state budget is built on $54 million in casino licensing revenues. Meanwhile, casino developers plan to team up to take down the anti-casino ballot question in the fall. But not all the casino developers, according to CommonWealth.

Even if casino opponents prevail on the ballot question, the Salem News raises the possibility that the Legislature could reinstate the state’s gaming law.

Jim Braude’s Broadside hears the two sides of the upcoming casino debate from Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and Michael Mathis of MGM Resorts, which wants to build a casino in Springfield.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court strikes down a Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, saying the statute violated First Amendment rights of protesters.

Good luck with that: House Speaker John Boehner plans to sue President Obama.

A federal appeals court upholds the court decision that invalidated Utah‘s same-sex marriage ban, pushing a Supreme Court fight over marriage a bit closer. The Utah ruling comes on the same day that a federal court in Indiana strikes down that state’s same-sex marriage ban.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling extends privacy protections to cell phones.

The New York Times argues that government pension funds are addicted to risk.

ELECTIONS

A super PAC forms to support Jeff McCormick, one of two independents running for governor.

How do you like voting rights now? The Mississippi NAACP is looking for some political payback after black voter turnout helped Sen. Thad Cochran hang on to the Republican nomination. The Wall Street Journal argues that, even after Cochran’s narrow victory, the tea party retains enormous clout in Washington.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Skyscrapers may be coming to Boston Harbor, courtesy of developer Donald Chiofaro, and a more accommodating Boston City Hall.

A Wall Street Journal editorial blames Obamacare for the economy’s sharp contraction at the beginning of 2014; Vox argues it’s a sign that the federal health care law is working, by controlling runaway health care spending.

EDUCATION

California passes a law that makes it easier for school officials to fire teachers for gross misconduct, Governing reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state Appeals Court upheld a ruling that will allow a controversial turbine project on the Cohasset-Hingham border to move forward.

Cue “bigger boat” snark: Two Cape fisherman tell the tale of their encounter with a great white shark.

Marine animal experts have confirmed the white beast floating around Taunton River the past week is a beluga whale, a mammal whose primary habitat is in the Arctic and is rarely seen south of the sub-arctic waters in Canada.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston returns eight, illegally acquired artifacts to Nigeria.

Colleagues who knew a state trooper who was killed in a 2010 crash said they are “sickened” by the one-year sentence handed down to the other driver who was convicted of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor under state law.

MEDIA

The OC Weekly dissects the stunning failure of Aaron Kushner’s revitalization efforts at the Orange County Register.

The New York Times is doing away with about half of its blogs, including The Lede.