cable statutory license

This week, the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Significant Viewing was published in the Federal Register, setting a comment deadline of May 14, with reply comments due by June 15.  The NPRM asks for comments as to whether the FCC should update its rules for establishing whether or not a TV station is “significantly viewed” in a market other than the one in which it is located, and whether the FCC has the statutory authority to make changes to these rules that have largely been in effect since 1972.

A determination of significantly viewed status is important for determining whether a cable system or satellite television company will carry a TV station in areas that are not part of its home market.  For FCC purposes, significantly viewed stations generally are not subject to the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity protections provided to home market stations – meaning that their programming that duplicates that of a local station need not be blacked out by the MVPD at the request of the local station that has the rights to such programming in that market.  For copyright purposes, if a station has significantly viewed status, the MVPD pays at the low rates applicable to a local station pays for the compulsory copyright license needed to carry all of the programming of a television station.  If the station is not significantly viewed, the much higher “distant signal” rate applies, giving the MVPD far less incentive to carry such stations.
Continue Reading Comment Dates Set on Possible Revision to Rules on Significantly Viewed Television Stations for MVPD Carriage Purposes – What Is Being Asked?

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

FilmOnX, that Aereo copycat service that seeks to deliver the signals of over-the-air television stations to consumers’ computers for a fee, has lost another round in its attempt to be recognized as a cable system. Ever since the Aereo decision of the Supreme Court (which we summarized here), finding that services like Aereo and FilmOn did involve a public performance of television programming for which they permission of program owners, FilmOn has been seeking to be declared a cable system. Why? Because cable systems have a “statutory license” under Section 111 of the Copyright Act allowing them to rebroadcast television programming without explicit permission of the copyright owners simply by paying a fee – a fee which is very small when rebroadcasting a television signal in its own television market. The decision released last week by the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois joined courts in New York and DC (see our article about the DC court decision here) in determining that FilmOn did not qualify for that license. Only a lone court in California has thus far agreed with FilmOn’s position (see our summary here), and that decision is on appeal.

In reaching its decision, the Illinois court looked at the definition of a cable system in the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act states that a cable system is “a facility” that “receives signals transmitted or programs broadcast by one or more television broadcast stations” and “makes secondary transmission of such signals or programs by wires, cables microwave or other communications channels” to subscribers. In looking at that definition, the Court found that the FilmOn system was not a facility that made secondary transmissions (meaning a rebroadcast or retransmission of the original signal) of the television signals that it received. While it received those signals, rather than transmitting those signals to the public, as does a traditional cable system or even an unwired “wireless cable system,” FilmOn instead simply transmitted those signals to the Internet, and the Internet was the mechanism that delivered the signals to the customers. In essence, the Court adopts the requirement for a “facilities based” transmission system in order for a system to be considered a cable system for purposes of qualifying for the statutory license – meaning that it must be one that owns or controls the means of communication of the television signals to the company’s customers. As FilmOn does not own or control the Internet, it is not such a facilities-based carrier.
Continue Reading Another Loss for FilmOnX in its Quest to Be Recognized as a Cable System Entitled to Rely on Statutory License to Retransmit TV Signals

Over-the-top video systems, using the Internet to transmit over-the-air TV signals to consumers, are back in the news. Last week, a US District Court Judge in the Central District of California, in a case involving FilmOnX, an Aereo-like service that had been involved in many of the court decisions that had preceded the Supreme Court’s Aereo decision, suggested that such platforms can get that public performance right through the statutory license provided by Section 111 of the Copyright Act – the same section of the Act that allows cable systems to retransmit broadcast signals without getting permission from every copyright holder of every program broadcast on those stations. Just last year, we were writing about the Supreme Court decision in the Aereo case, where the Court determined that a company could not use an Internet-based platform to stream the signals of over-the-air television stations within their own markets without first getting public performance rights from the stations themselves. The new decision raises the potential of a new way for these Internet services to try to get the rights to rebroadcast TV signals.

The FilmOn decision was on a motion for summary decision, and is a very tentative decision – the Judge recognizing that he was weighing in on a very sensitive subject, going where both the FCC and the Copyright Office have thus far feared to tread, and disagreeing with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that had held the opposite several years ago in the Ivi decision. The FilmOn decision is a preliminary one – subject to further argument before the Judge at the end of the month. Even if adopted as written, the judge recognized the potential impact of his decision, and the fact that it contradicted Ivi and other decisions. Thus, the decision stated that its effect would be stayed pending an immediate appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. So, even if finalized, we have not seen the last of this argument yet.
Continue Reading A Compulsory License for Internet TV Platforms to Retransmit Broadcast TV? One US District Court Considering FilmOnX Seems to Think So

The Supreme Court decision in the Aereo case seemed to be the end of the line for the service that was retransmitting television stations signals without consent, as it found that the broadcasters were entitled to an injunction to force Aereo to cease the public performance of their signals without consent.  In fact, Aereo itself seemed to think so too, shutting off its service soon after the decision.  But in a move that was surprising to some, Aereo has apparently not thrown in the towel, and it is now back in Court with a two-pronged argument as to why its service is still viable (see its letter to the Court here).  First, it argues that, as the Supreme Court seemed to think that Aereo acted like a cable system and should be treated in the same manner as a cable system for purposes of determining whether its retransmission of a television stations signal was a public performance, it might as well be treated like a cable system for all purposes, and thus it should be entitled to carry the signals of TV stations pursuant to the statutory license granted to cable systems by Section 111 of the Copyright Act.  Second, it argues that, even if it does not qualify for treatment as a cable system, it should nevertheless be able to retransmit television signals – just not in real time, as the Aereo contends that the Court decision only prevented simultaneous and near simultaneous retransmissions of the television stations’ signals.  Offering once again a fearless prediction – I doubt these arguments will help Aereo any more than did their arguments before the Supreme Court.

Admittedly, their argument that they qualify as a cable system under the Copyright Act has some appeal.  In fact, as we noted in our summary of the oral argument before the Supreme Court, the Justices even asked why the company did not qualify as a cable company.  Section 111 of the Copyright Act defines a cable system as follows:

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.

That language is seemingly broad, covering not just what most of us think as a cable system (one that uses wires to transmit TV programming to the customer), as it talks expansively of “other communications channels” to deliver programming.  Of course, when satellite TV started, they were unsure of their status under this definition, and ended up getting a whole new section of the act to determine their ability to retransmit local TV signals to their subscribers.  But even if this section can be read expansively to cover Aereo, what does that get them?
Continue Reading Not Dead Yet – Aereo Tries To Reinvent Itself By Arguing that it is a Cable System Entitled to Carry Television Stations Pursuant to the Statutory License

We wrote last month about the fact that the Copyright Office has initiated a major proceeding to reexamine the statutory licenses that allow cable systems and satellite distributors to retransmit the programming of local television stations.  A statutory license allows retransmission of television signals by these multichannel video providers without getting the consent of copyright owners of each and every program (and program elements contained in the programming, e.g. music) that a broadcast station may feature in its programming. As part of this proceeding, the Copyright Office promised to hold public hearings on these licenses. The Office has announced the schedule for these hearings, to be held from July 23  to July 26. Parties interested in participating in the hearings need to register their interest on or before June 15. The Copyright Office’s notice about the hearing, which contains instructions on the process for filing a request to testify, can be found here.

Written comments in this important proceeding are due July 2. The Copyright Office has also encouraged interested parties to file suggested questions to be posed to the participants in the hearing by July 2.  Reply comments in the case are due on September 13.  The Copyright Office has also encouraged parties to respond to the testimony presented at the hearing in their reply comments. 


Continue Reading Copyright Office to Hold Hearings on Video Statutory Licenses