The Copyright Office last week released a wide-ranging Notice of Inquiry, asking many questions about the statutory licenses that allow cable and satellite companies to retransmit broadcast television signals without getting the specific approval of all the copyright holders who provide programming to the television stations. The notice was released so that the Copyright Office can prepare a report to Congress, due June of 2008, in which it will present its views as to whether the various statutory licenses still perform a necessary function, and whether any reforms of the current licenses are necessary. To complete its report, the Notice asks many questions about how these licenses currently work, whether the licenses function efficiently, and whether they should be retained, modified or abolished in favor of marketplace negotiations. The Notice even asks whether the existing statutory licenses should be expanded to take into account the different ways video programming is now delivered to the consumer, including various Internet and mobile delivery systems. Thus, virtually anyone involved in the video programming world may want to be part of this proceeding. Comments are due July 2 and reply comments are due September 13.
The cable and satellite statutory licenses were adopted by Congress to allow these multi-channel video systems to retransmit broadcast signals. Without these licenses, the individual owners of copyrighted material – including syndicated, network, sports, and music programming — would have to be consulted to secure necessary copyright approval before the television signal could be retransmitted. As the multi-channel video providers would, in many cases, not even know who held all these rights, they instead pay a statutory license which is collected, pooled, and then distributed to the various rights holders in proportions agreed to by those copyright holders or, in the absence of agreement, set by the Copyright Royalty Board.