At the Supreme Court last Tuesday, some observers have noted, the justices seemed flummoxed by the case of Aereo, a company that pulls network TV broadcasts off the airwaves and streams them to online users for a monthly fee.

That is not because the court’s jurists are hopelessly incapable of considering its business model. It is because taking decades-old law and applying it to new technological reality is hard.

Aereo’s critics want to shore up the exclusive right of the people who own copyrights on programming to control – and profit from – the distribution of their work. Aereo benefits from the notion that the networks are allowed to send such programming over the public airwaves on the condition that anyone can view it for free.

On principle, the balance should obviously favor consumers. There is no difference between getting network television for free with an antenna or doing so with an Internet connection that warrants different treatment of the two.

The court has underscored that individuals have the right to put up antennas, record programs and use that material privately.

The essence of Aereo’s case is that the firm provides the infrastructure – antennas, recording space and streaming setup – so that people do not have to bother with all of that on their own. Which makes sense.

The law should ensure that people who create content can obtain fair rewards from copyright protections. But it must also allow innovators to innovate.

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