NAB Broadcasting Mixed Signals Over Aereo

  • David Frederick (center), outside counsel for Aereo, speaks to the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building after oral arguments in the case ABC vs. Aereo on April 22
    Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images
April 28, 2014 -- 10:58 am PDT

On April 22 the Supreme Court heard arguments in ABC vs. Aereo. Traditional broadcasters (represented by the National Association of Broadcasters in D.C.) are steadfast in their reasoning: No company or individual should be able to profit from content that doesn't belong to them.

This is the main message of their argument against Aereo, the upstart Internet company that uses small antennas to capture free local TV programming and transmit it to subscribers who can download and stream it at their convenience — for a monthly fee. Aereo doesn't pay a penny to the television broadcasters for the right to redistribute their shows over the Internet, and the broadcasters are hopping mad — as they should be. According to them, another entity should not be able to appropriate that content for nothing and resell it. We at The Recording Academy support this concept; in fact, we even participated in an amicus brief supporting the broadcasters.

Gordon Smith, the NAB's president and CEO, summed it up nicely in The Washington Post: "Quite simply, Aereo takes copyrighted material, profits from it and does so without compensating copyright holders."

But if you've noticed a little static with the NAB's position, do not adjust your television, there is nothing wrong with your set. Simply replace "Aereo" with "radio" in the quote above and the problem will be clarified in high-definition.

The NAB also represents the traditional radio stations, which for decades have gotten away with not paying artists for their copyrighted works. How can the NAB take two such drastically differing positions on the same principle?

It's time the broadcasters took a close look at their own stance on the issue of "highly valued content" and accept the inevitability of a performance rights act that will protect all content creators. If they continue to send mixed signals, the courts and Congress may simply tune them out.