Early this month, the Copyright Office released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking dealing with two separate but related issues. First, it asks for comments on certain changes in the reporting that cable systems and satellite TV operators provide to the Copyright Office on the programming that they carry – information that is used to provide baseline information for the Copyright Royalty Board to use in its determinations on how the royalties paid by cable systems for the carriage of television stations are distributed to the programmers and content owners that provide programming to the stations.   While certainly the reporting of information used to distribute the royalties paid by cable and satellite for their compulsory license to carry the programming broadcast by TV stations is important, perhaps the more interesting portion of the Notice was the questions that it asked about the definition of a cable system – proposing to adopt the definition of cable systems that exclude Internet-based systems that has been reflected in recent court cases.

We have written about the issue of whether online platforms qualify for the compulsory license to carry television stations many times (see for instance our article here when the issue was first raised by Aereo), when services such as Aereo and FilmOn argued that they could carry television stations on their online platforms without specific consent from the stations as they qualified as cable systems.  These arguments have been consistently rejected by the Courts (see, for instance, our articles here and here) , most recently in the Spring when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the one District Court decision that had found that the argument advanced by FilmOn had merit (see our summary of the Ninth Circuit decision here).  The Copyright Office proposes to adopt that definition.
Continue Reading What is a Cable System – The Copyright Office Wants to Know

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, the FCC released the tentative agenda for its December meeting. From that agenda, it appears that the meeting will be an important one for broadcasters and other media companies. Already, the press has spent incredible amounts of time focusing on one item, referred to as “Restoring Internet Freedom” by the FCC, and “net neutrality” by many other observers. The FCC’s draft of the Order that they will be considering at their December meeting is available here.

The one pure broadcast item on the agenda is the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, looking to determine if the FCC should amend the cap limiting one TV station owner to stations reaching no more than 39% of the national audience. The FCC asks a series of questions in its draft notice of proposed rulemaking, available here, including whether it has the power to change the cap, or if the power is exclusively that of Congress. The FCC promised to initiate this proceeding when it reinstated the UHF discount (see our articles here and here). In that proceeding, the FCC determined that the UHF discount should not have been abolished without a thorough examination of the national ownership cap – an examination that will be undertaken in this new proceeding if the NPRM is adopted at the December meeting.
Continue Reading December FCC Meeting to be an Important One for Broadcasters and Other Media Companies

Summer is coming to an end, but the legal obligations never take a vacation, and September brings another list of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters. While the month is one of those without the usual list of EEO Public File obligations or quarterly FCC filing obligations, there still are a number of other regulatory deadlines for which broadcasters need to be prepared.

For commercial broadcasters, the September date that should be on everyone’s mind is the deadline for the payment of annual regulatory fees. As we wrote here, there is an FCC order circulating among the Commissioners that should be released any day, setting the amounts of the regulatory fees and the deadline for their payment. These fees will almost certainly be due in September, prior to the start of the government’s fiscal year on October 1. So stay alert for the announcement of the window for paying these “reg fees.”
Continue Reading September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Including Reg Fees, Nationwide EAS Test, Must-Carry Letters, Lowest Unit Rate, Translator and Repack Deadlines and GMR License Extension

In a decision released this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a District Court decision (about which we wrote here) that had found that a video service provided by Aereokiller was a “cable system” as defined by Section 111 of the Copyright Act. That decision had held that, as a cable system, Aereokiller was entitled to retransmit the programming broadcast by a television station under a statutory license, without specific permission from the copyright holders in that programming. The Court of Appeals, while finding that the wording of Section 111 was ambiguous, determined that the consistent position taken by the Copyright Office, finding that cable systems as defined by Section 111 had to be local services retransmitting TV programming, with some fixed facilities to a defined set of communities was determinative of the issue. The Copyright Office’s interpretation was given particular deference as Congress had been well-aware of this interpretation of the statute in other contexts, had in the past amended the Copyright Act to accommodate other new technologies that the Copyright Office found to be outside its definition of a cable system, and had taken no action to amend the statute to include Internet-based video transmission services.

The issue in the case is whether the broad definition of a cable system included in Section 111 would include an over-the-top system such as that offered by Aereokiller. The definition contained in Section 111 is:

A “cable system” is a facility, located in any State, territory, trust territory, or possession of the United States, that in whole or in part receives signals transmitted or programs broadcast by one or more television broadcast stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and makes secondary transmissions of such signals or programs by wires, cables, microwave, or other communications channels to subscribing members of the public who pay for such service. For purposes of determining the royalty fee under subsection (d)(1), two or more cable systems in contiguous communities under common ownership or control or operating from one headend shall be considered as one system.

The question of whether this definition includes Internet-based video systems has been raised many times since the Supreme Court’s Aereo decision (about which we wrote here), which found that the retransmission of television signals by such systems were “public performances” that needed a license. After the Supreme Court’s determination in Aereo, which had language comparing these over-the-top systems to cable systems that need a statutory license to cover their public performances, these services argued that they were in fact cable systems entitled to rely on the Section 111 statutory license to cover their public performances of the TV station’s programming. These systems argued that they made “secondary retransmissions” of television signals “by wire, cables, microwave or other communications channels” – the Internet argued to be one of those other communications channels. While most courts have rejected this argument (see our articles here and here), a District Court in California was an exception, finding that the statutory language was broad enough to cover these Internet-based systems.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Rules that Over-the-Top Video Service is Not a Cable System Entitled to Statutory License to Retransmit TV Station Programming

Each quarter, my partner David O’Connor and I update a list of the legal and regulatory issues facing TV broadcasters. That list of issues is published by TVNewsCheck and is available on their website, here. This update was published today, and provides a summary of the status of legal and regulatory issues ranging

September 29 will be a big day for broadcasters and other media companies when the FCC holds its next open meeting. In the tentative agenda for that meeting released on Thursday, the FCC identified several issues that deal with the media including two big items on video issues – the decision as to what to do about the Commission’s proposals to open the cable set top box to competing systems, and a new proposal designed to promote sources of independent programming for video distributors. In addition to these two items, the FCC also says that it will resolve the proposals to make the FCC’s foreign ownership rules for broadcasting more like those applicable to non-broadcast companies, easing some of the procedural restrictions that made it difficult for non-US investors to become owners of US broadcast stations.

The set top box debate is perhaps the debate that has garnered the most publicity, with the Commission proposing to allow more companies to offer a means to access cable and satellite TV programming – perhaps enabling the use of new apps to access and inventory that programming. Content owners and program distributors have worried about security issues with opening programming to access on a myriad of devices, and have also been concerned that the loosening of these restrictions could interfere with contractual rights limiting access to certain programs to certain devices and distribution channels. The FCC Chairman yesterday released this fact sheet about the proposal setting out some specifics of the proposal that will seemingly be voted on at the late September meeting, and the Chairman published this op-ed article in the LA Times explaining what he is trying to do. The matter is sure to remain controversial right through the late-September meeting, and perhaps after the decision as well.
Continue Reading September FCC Meeting To Be a Big One for Media Companies – Set Top Boxes, Foreign Ownership of Broadcast Stations and Promotion of Independent Programming

Last week, the FCC announced a consent decree with Sinclair Broadcast Group where Sinclair agreed to pay $9.495 million to the FCC to settle claims that it negotiated retransmission consent agreements involving stations that it did not own with MVPDs (cable and satellite companies).  Sinclair did not admit any liability – but stated that it

The websites of the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office, which include the site used by the Copyright Royalty Board, will be down for maintenance this weekend. This includes the portal for filing cable and satellite royalty claims, which will be unavailable 5 p.m. ET, Friday, July 29, through Sunday, July 31.

There are so many legal issues that facing broadcasters that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with them all. This Blog and many other activities that those at my firm engage in are meant to help our clients and other broadcasters keep up to date on all of the many regulatory challenges with which

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday used a blog post to announce that the Commission’s pending rulemaking concerning its retransmission consent rules is ending without the adoption of any additional rules.  This proceeding was to review the “totality of the circumstances” test in determining whether TV stations and MVPDs (cable and satellite television systems) were negotiating in good faith to reach a retransmission consent agreement.  In last year’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding, the FCC proposed a number of possible negotiating tactics that could be declared to be per se violations of the good faith standard – including items such as ending retransmission consent before a major television event (like the Super Bowl) or blocking access to online streams of programming to Internet subscribers who were affiliated with the MVPD involved in the retransmission dispute (see our summary of the proceeding here).  Many broadcasters and industry analysts feared that there would be regulations adopted that could restrict TV stations’ ability to negotiate favorable retransmission consent deals.  But the Commission seems to have reached the conclusion that they can already, under existing rules, cajole parties to reach a deal if the need arises and that no more specific regulations are needed.

In his blog post, Chairman Wheeler stated that after FCC staff had conducted an extensive review of the record, “it is clear that more rules in this area are not what we need at this point.”  He noted that the FCC has an existing nine-point test to judge the compliance of parties with the good faith requirement, plus the broader “totality of circumstances” standard that can be used to find a party in violation even when none of the specifically prohibited conduct has occurred.  While little enforcement action has actually been taken in this area, it has often been threatened to bring parties to the table and encourage a voluntary settlement.  The Chairman seemed to think that the existing remedies were enough to act in extreme cases, and trying to decide in more specificity which practices were prohibited and which were permitted “could limit future inquiries.”    In other words, adopting more specific prohibitions could make it more difficult to rely on the broader “totality of circumstances” test in any particular case that did not involve a specifically prohibited activity. 
Continue Reading FCC Chairman Announces No Changes in Good Faith Negotiation Standards for Retransmission Consent Agreements Between TV and MVPDs