A bank of Aereo antennas.

Television broadcasters have finally managed to eke out a small victory against Aereo, the rogue cable-like service that has been sucking money out of their cash drawers.

A federal appeals court judge in Denver said Aereo was violating broadcasters' copyrights. Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Dale Kimball ordered the service shut down in Denver and Salt Lake City and blocked it from starting in Idaho, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

The victory may be short-lived, however. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case, which pits the fast-growing start-up against broadcast giants including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

The case revolves around the royalty payments that cable systems pay to broadcasters for redistributing their programming. Aereo claims it is not a cable system; it says it simply operates a bank of miniature antennas in each city it serves -- one antenna per customer.

Aereo thus argues that it is not redistributing the broadcasters' programs for profit but is merely acting as a remote antenna for each of its customers.

Objections dismissed

Federal district and appellate judges elsewhere have dismissed the broadcasters' objections, leaving the broadcasters in a state approaching hysteria.

Some network executives have gone so far as to argue that they will pull the plug on themselves and take their stations off the air if Aereo is victorious in court. The stations would then be available only on cable.

Of course, this would shut off service to millions of consumers who have their own antennas but consumers have been an afterthought in this as in so many other debates that pitch supposed Davids and Goliaths against each other.

While the seemingly noble warriors grunt, strut and smack each other, playing to the cheering crowds in the stands, it's worth remembering that the prize they're fighting for is not peace, love and freedom. Instead, it's the lowly consumer, who will be taken out back and stripped of his worldly goods as soon as the main event is over.


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