The battle over services that record and stream over-the-air TV without compensation to TV broadcasters has become even more confusing, with a US District Court judge in Boston denying an injunction to stop the Aereo service in Massachusetts in a suit brought by Hearst Corporation, which owns a local TV station. This decision comes on the heels of a decision the decision by the US District Court in Washington DC finding that Aereo-like service FilmOn X was violating the copyrights of TV stations by operating a similar service in the DC area (see our discussion of that decision here). Joining decisions in NY favoring the streaming services (a decision we initially wrote about here), and one is California favoring broadcasters, the decision appears to be headed to an ultimate resolution before the Supreme Court to reflect these conflicting points of view. In fact, TV broadcasters have already announced the likelihood of their filing a Supreme Court petition asking the Court to resolve the matter. 

Of course, the decisions outside of NY have been by District Courts, not US Appeals Courts. All except the NY decision are subject to review by the US Court of Appeals in the Circuits in which these District Courts lie. It is possible that the appeals could come out differently than the decisions by the District Courts, and either increase or decrease the likelihood of Supreme Court review, depending on whether the other appellate courts rule for Aereo or FilmOn X (decreasing the likelihood of Supreme Court review if the Circuits agree on the outcome) or against it (increasing the likelihood of review as the Court would be faced with conflicts among the circuits which is a usual ground for Supreme Court review). The Boston decision, while not as comprehensive as some of the other decisions on the topic, does raise some interesting issues that will no doubt be considered on appeal.


Continue Reading The Courts Continue To Split on Streaming TV Services – As Boston Court Denies TV Broadcasters Request for an Injunction Against Aereo

The FCC denied reconsideration on the last phase of the digital television transition – requiring that all LPTV stations and TV translators cease analog operations and be operating digitally by September 1, 2015. See our summary of the original ruling on the digital conversion of LPTV and TV translator stations here. In denying reconsideration, the FCC determined that the September 1, 2015 date will hold – denying requests that the final decision be postponed while the FCC considers the repacking of the television band as part of the incentive auction process to clear part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. The FCC also noted that some parties wanted to keep operating in an analog mode on TV channel 6, as the audio can be received by FM receivers (so-called "Franken FMs"). The Commission determined that using Channel 6 to provide an audio service this was not a sufficient reason to keep analog operations on TV channels alive past the deadline that they have established. (See our articles about these hybrid LPTV/FM stations, which take advantage of the fact that Channel 6 is adjacent to the FM band and that analog TV used an FM audio system, here).

The Commission did note that, in response to some petitions for reconsideration, that any LPTV station or translator moving to Channel 6 for digital operations be required to protect noncommercial FM stations that would be operating on adjacent frequencies. While the Commission does not expect that such interference will occur frequently, they made clear that LPTV and TV translators are secondary services, and they cannot continue to operate if they cause interference to primary services, including primary noncommercial FM stations.


Continue Reading No Relief on LPTV/TV Translator Digital Conversion Deadline – 2015 Deadline for End of Analog Operations Upheld on Reconsideration

The FCC yesterday proposed abolishing the UHF discount – which counts the audience reached by a UHF station as only one-half when computing whether the owner is approaching the 39% cap on nationwide audience that can be reached by one owner. While many FCC rulemaking proposals are very subtle, with many nuances that are important in the debate about the final rules to be adopted, this proposal is actually straightforward – should the discount be abolished or not.  Following the digital transition, which saw many migrate from VHF to UHF, most television stations are now UHF (meaning that they operate on TV channels 14-51). While many stations may continue to identify themselves by their old VHF channel numbers, the vast majority now really operate on UHF channels because of UHF’s technical superiority in a digital world.  Digital allows these stations to identify themselves with a “virtual” number – looking to consumers like they are still on channels 2, 4, 7, 9, etc. – when they are really operating on a UHF channel.  But the actual channel of operation is used for claiming the UHF discount and assessing compliance with the 39% audience cap. In yesterday’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission proposed doing away with that discount, as the impediment that stations used to suffer from being on a UHF channel (worse indoor reception, a more limited coverage area and significantly higher electricity costs) are no longer as severe, and being on UHF actually has become an advantage (as UHF, in a digital world, is less susceptible to interference and needs a smaller antenna, thus being better for mobile operations). While the Commission’s proposal is straightforward, and the logic seems simple, the proposal is not without issues.

These issues were identified by Commissioner Pai who yesterday dissented from the proposal for the abolition of the rule. The Commissioner noted that several television groups are already above the cap if the discount is abolished (including Univision), and several others are nearing the 39% cap. He suggested that, if the discount is to be abolished, the Commission should consider lifting the cap above 39% to reflect today’s competitive television marketplace realities, and to not effectively raise the cap on how many stations can be owned. He also suggested that diversity should be part of the consideration, given the impact on Univision. Perhaps the biggest area of debate that he raised is the question of when any rule change would take effect.


Continue Reading FCC Starts Proceeding to Consider Abolishing the UHF Discount – Effectively Lowering TV Ownership Limits?

We have not written as much as we should have about the current FCC proceeding looking to reclaim parts of the television spectrum in order to repurpose it for auction to wireless users. The process by which the FCC will pay some broadcasters to give up their spectrum (the "incentive auction"), and get the money to pay for that surrender of spectrum from a simultaneous auction of the reclaimed spectrum, is a very complicated one. It will require careful judgments about how much money will be received and how much will be needed to be spent to clear the required spectrum, and to pay for other costs required by Congress in the enabling legislation (see our article here about the legislation), including the costs of moving remaining broadcasters to new channels after the auction. In order to provide a uniform block of wireless spectrum across the country (so that devices can be built to receive new signals on the same channels everywhere), the television stations that are not going to return their spectrum to the FCC will have to be “repacked” into a reduced television band, requiring some stations to change channels to accomplish that repacking. This week, the FCC made two announcements that will begin to shed some light on that transition – announcing the panelists for a discussion on the repacking process, and asking for comments on the costs to be incurred by TV broadcasters which can be reimbursed by the fund that the FCC is required to maintain to fund that repacking.

The FCC first released notice of the panelists for a September 30 discussion of how the repacking of TV spectrum will take place, discussing the likely mechanics of the repacking and the ways that the repacking can be accomplished efficiently.  (For more on the discussion, go to this page on the FCC website).  Representatives of the FCC will moderate panels of trade association representatives, engineers and others to discuss the repacking process. The discussion will be webcast by the FCC (go here for the webcast on September 30).


Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Reimbursable Costs of TV Stations Changing Channels as Part of Repacking of TV Spectrum for Incentive Auctions, and Announces Panels to Discuss the Process

The US District Court in Washington DC issued a decision earlier this month, enjoining the operation of the television streaming service FilmOn X throughout the United States – except within the Second Circuit (covering NY) where the US Court of Appeals reached a contrary decision in connection with Aereo – a very similar service. Both of these services utilize multiple small antennas to receive over-the-air television programs, which are recorded on a central server and sent over the Internet on demand to individual viewers. In effect, these viewers, by paying the subscription fee charged by the services, get their television programming on the Internet – through their computers and soon to their mobile devices.  The contrary decisions in these two cases illustrate a fundamental disagreement between two courts as to the meaning of the "public performance" right enjoyed by copyright holders in their copyrighted works.

As we wrote here, the Second Circuit, in the Aereo case, determined that, as the transmission of the over-the-air programming was done on an individual basis, at the demand of the individual viewer, it was not a “public performance.” In the Second Circuit’s opinion, the fact that the transmission is made to a single user, either when the program is aired or on a delayed basis, made each individual performance of the television program a "private performance," which did not infringe on the rights of the copyright holders, and more than a transmission of a signal from an antenna on someone’s roof to the television set in the living room was a public performance.  The DC Court disagreed with that interpretation, joining a District Court in California in deciding that this type of service, without the permission of the broadcaster, is a violation of the copyright laws.

The DC Court was very thorough in its review of the issue and its basis for disagreeing with the Second Circuit (or agreeing with the dissenting opinion in the Second Circuit). The issue raised in the FilmOn X case, whether the retransmission over the Internet of the over-the-air television signal of a broadcaster is essentially the same issue raised 40 years ago when cable television operators first started to operate, charging customers for bring them television signals from over-the-air TV stations. After the Supreme Court at that time, in the Fortnightly and Telepromter cases, agreed with cable operators that their retransmissions of television stations did not constitute a "public performance" of those signals, Congress intervened in 1976, revising the Copyright Act to make clear that such retransmissions of broadcast signals were in fact covered by the Act. The changes adopted then, which are still in place in the Copyright Act, were cited by the DC Court in finding that the operations of FilmOn X indeed violated the copyright holders public performance rights under the Copyright Act.


Continue Reading DC Court Issues Injunction Against FilmOn X for Its Aereo-Like TV-Streaming Service – Increasing Legal Confusion Over TV Public Performance Rights

We’ve written extensively about copyright issues for audio services, but the big copyright decision that recently made headlines is a TV issue, though one that could have an impact on audio as well. That was the Second Circuit decision in the Aereo case – upholding a lower court decision allowing a company to retransmit over-the-air TV signals to consumers over the Internet – without any royalties to the TV broadcasters or television program producers. The decision looked at the issue of what defines a “public performance” that would require the consent of the copyright owner. The Court found that there is no public performance of television programming where the service is set up so that the programming is streamed to the viewer individually, at their demand, rather than transmitted all at once to multiple consumers – as by a cable system or a  satellite television service. The decision is a controversial one – decided by a 2 to 1 vote with the dissenting judge issuing a strong dissent arguing that the Aereo service was nothing more than a “sham” designed to evade the royalty obligations or copyright permissions that would be necessary if the service were deemed a cable system or other type of multichannel video provider. What does this decision really mean for television stations, and could it have broader implications for the reuse of all sorts of broadcast content on the Internet?

The decision focused on the question of whether the Aereo service “publicly performs” the programming that it sends to its subscribers. Under the Copyright Act, a copyright owner has a bundle of rights which it has the exclusive ability to exploit. This includes the right to copy the copyrighted work, to distribute it, to make a “derivative work” (a work that uses the copyrighted material and changes it in some way – like putting new words to the melody of a copyrighted song), and the right to publicly perform it. The definition of a public performance includes any transmission or retransmission of a performance to multiple individuals at the same time or at different times. This language was added to the Copyright Act at the time of the advent of cable television, to make clear that services like cable, that take an existing performance (like that of a broadcast television station) and then further transmit it to other people (even people who could theoretically pick up the original performance) were themselves making a public performance that needed the consent of the copyright holder or a government-imposed statutory license (which allows the performance as long as the party making the performance pays the copyright holder an amount set by the government). From a cursory look, it would appear that Aereo is retransmitting the signal of the TV station to all of its customers. Why, then, did the Court rule that no public performance was involved?


Continue Reading Aereo Court Decision Permits Internet Streaming of TV Programs Without Royalties – Undermining the Public Performance Right?

With broadcasters making their way to the NAB Convention in Las Vegas, the FCC on Friday provided one topic for conversation among TV broadcasters – issuing a Public Notice imposing a freeze – effective immediately – on the filing of any technical application by any licensee or permittee of a full power TV station or a Class A station if that application which would increase their protected service area. The freeze was imposed, in the words of the FCC, in order to “facilitate analysis of repacking methodologies and to assure that the objectives of the broadcast television incentive auction are not frustrated.”  In other words, the FCC wants a stable TV database from which it can begin the process of repacking TV stations into a smaller portion of the TV spectrum to facilitate the auction of parts of the TV spectrum recaptured after an incentive auction for wireless broadband purposes.

According to the notice, the Media Bureau will no longer accept the following types of applications:

·       Modification applications (and amendments to pending modification applications) by full power and Class A television broadcast licensees and permittees for changes to existing service areas that would increase a full power station’s noise-limited contour, or a Class A station’s protected contour, in one or more directions beyond the area resulting from the station’s present parameters as represented in its authorizations (licenses and/or construction permits).

·       Class A displacement applications that would increase a station’s protected contour.  (However, the Bureau will continue to accept Class A minor change applications to implement the digital transition (flash cut and digital companion channel) subject to current rule limitations.  

The Notice states that the Bureau will consider requests for waivers of the freeze, on a case-by-case basis “when a modification application is necessary or otherwise in the public interest for technical or other reasons to maintain quality service to the public, such as when zoning restrictions preclude tower construction at a particular site or when unforeseen events, such as extreme weather events or other extraordinary circumstances, require relocation to a new tower site.” So, if your tower collapses and you need to move to a different site, a waiver may be possible, but improvements for the sake of improving a station’s signal will most likely be prohibited by the freeze.


Continue Reading FCC Imposes Freeze on Television Station Technical Improvements – Preparing for Repacking the TV Spectrum to Allow for Spectrum Auctions

February is almost upon us, and it brings a host of regulatory obligations for broadcasters – as well as the filing deadline for those interested in pursuing new FM channels in an upcoming auction, and a number of opportunities to comment on important FCC proceedings. The week before last, TV NewsCheck published our latest quarterly update on the regulatory issues facing television broadcasters – and these include several with February dates. Most importantly (at least in the short term), there is the obligation for television broadcasters to upload to their Online Public Inspection file all documents created before the August 2 effective date of the rules (but for documents relating to political broadcasting).   So documents that had been kept in paper – like Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports and Quarterly Issues Programs Lists – need to be in the Online Public File by the beginning of the month. 

In the longer term, while not due in February, comments to be filed this Friday (January 25) on the television incentive auction process, will need to be analyzed in preparation for the Reply comments due on March 12 in this most important proceeding which may well define the composition of over-the-air television in the coming years. Comments on the FCC proceeding on expanding the information gathered in the Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports are also due in February – just in time for Valentine’s Day on the 14th

 


Continue Reading February Legal Deadlines for Broadcasters – Online Public File, Review of Incentive Auction Comments, Filing Deadline for FM Auction, and Lots of Renewals and EEO Public File Reports

The CALM Act, meant to end the dreaded "loud commercial," is set to go into effect tomorrow, December 13. We summarized the requirements for compliance with the Act here. Basically, TV stations must adopt certain practices set out in a series of standards known as A/85 Recommended Practice, adopted by the ATSC (the Advanced Television Standards Committee). As we advised stations, the rules initially required any station needing more time was supposed to ask for a waiver of the rules by October 12. In an Order released on Tuesday, the FCC granted two waivers, and also decided that any other station needing more time could request a waiver as late as the compliance deadline date.

In the order, the Commission granted two waiver requests – one for just a month and a half as the cable system simply had a misunderstanding of what they needed to do to achieve compliance, and the second until the end of May because a TV station was in the middle of a studio move, and promised to install the new compliant equipment at the new studio. The Commission also reminded stations that there are two kinds of waivers available – automatic waivers, upon request, for small stations (those with under $14 million in annual revenue or in a TV market from number 150 to market 210) and small cable systems; and other waivers for stations facing specific problems, including financial hardships. Those who do not qualify as small stations would need to demonstrate the specific hardship justifying the waiver. So any stations or systems seeking a waiver have a last chance to do so, by Thursday.


Continue Reading Compliance Deadline for CALM Act December 13 – FCC Allows Waiver Filings Until that Deadline

This Friday (October 12) is the deadline for requesting a waiver under the FCC’s Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (“CALM”) Act implementing procedures, intended to combat "loud commercials."  We wrote about the implementing rules and the obligations of television stations to come into compliance with the standards set out in the rules, adopting a protocol that seeks to maintain consistency between commercials and surrounding programs, here. The Commission’s order allowed for waiver requests by stations that would have a financial hardship in complying – with such waivers being due 60 days before the compliance deadline. As that deadline for compliance is December 13, the waiver requests are due on Friday.

All such waiver requests must be submitted through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System.  Waiver applicants must demonstrate that purchasing the required equipment would result in “financial hardship.”  Such waivers, if granted, will be valid for one year and may be renewed for one additional year.  The FCC also retains the authority to issue a waiver for good cause.  “Small stations” are eligible for a streamlined waiver process for demonstrating financial hardship.


Continue Reading CALM Act Waiver Requests Due By October 12