The US District Court in Washington DC last week decided that FilmOn X could not rely on the compulsory license of Section 111 of the Copyright Act to retransmit the signal of over-the-air television stations to consumers over the Internet. The compulsory license allows a system to rebroadcast copyrighted material without getting express permission from the copyright holder, as long as the service files the rules set out by the statutory provisions that create the license. The DC Court’s decision was the exact opposite of a decision reached in July by a California court which found that FilmOn did fit within the definition of a cable system as set out by the Copyright Act (see our summary of that decision here). Why the difference in opinions over exactly the same system?

Both Courts focused on the language of Section 111 which 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. 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.

Even though both courts looked to this same definition, they reach different conclusions – the principal difference being one over the requirement that, to be a cable system, the company must make “secondary transmissions of such signals or programs by wires, cables, microwave, or other communications channels.” The California court had looked at this definition, and determined that Internet retransmissions of TV programs were in fact secondary transmissions (a secondary transmission being a retransmission of the broadcast) by “wires, cables, microwave or other communications channels” – concluding essentially that the Internet was a communications channel. The DC Court, in contrast, did a far more searching analysis of this statutory language, and found that Internet transmissions don’t qualify as cable systems under this definition.
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As in any month, February has many impending deadlines for broadcasters and media companies – many routine regulatory obligations as well as some that are specific to certain proceedings.  First, let’s look at some of the routine filing deadlines.  On February 2, license renewal applications in the second-to-last filing window of this renewal cycle are due to be submitted to the FCC by TV stations in New York and New Jersey.  The last TV stations to have to file in a regular renewal cycle will be due on April 1, for those TV stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware.  After these stations complete their renewal filings, it will be another 5 years before another set of routine license renewals are to be filed.  Stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware should be broadcasting their pre-filing announcements on February 1 and February 16 (and there are also post-filing announcements that need to be run by the New York and New Jersey stations, as well as those in New England that filed their applications by December 1). 

Radio and TV stations in New York and New Jersey, as well as in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oklahoma, should be placing EEO Annual Public File Reports in their public files (online for TV and paper for radio, with links to the reports on their websites) by February 1 if they are part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees.  By February 2, noncommercial TV stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York should file with the FCC their Biennial Ownership Reports, and noncommercial radio stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma should be filing those same reports on February 2.  Commercial radio and TV stations in the entire country will be filing their Biennial Reports in December of this year.  A guide to many of the regular FCC filing deadlines can be found in our Broadcasters Calendar available here.
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Each year, at about this time, we pull out the crystal ball and make predictions of the issues affecting broadcasters that will likely bubble up to the top of the FCC’s agenda in the coming year.  While we try each year to throw in a mention of the issues that come to our mind, there are always surprises, and new issues that we did not anticipate. Sometimes policy decisions will come from individual cases, and sometimes they will be driven by a particular FCC Commissioner who finds a specific issue that is of specific interest to him or her.  But here is our try at listing at least some of the issues that broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year.  With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the maze of government agencies and courts who deal with broadcast issues.  In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

So here are some issues that are on the table at the FCC – starting first with issues affecting all stations, then on to TV and radio issues in separate sections below. 

General Broadcast Issues

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: In April, the FCC finally addressed its long outstanding Quadrennial Review of the broadcast multiple ownership rules – essentially by punting most of them into the next Quadrennial Review, which probably won’t be resolved until 2016.  Issues deferred include any revisions to the local ownership limits for radio or TV (such as loosening the ownership caps for TV stations in smaller markets, which the FCC tentatively suggested that they would not do), any revision to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule (which the FCC tentatively suggested that they would consider – perhaps so that this rule can be changed before the newspaper becomes extinct), and questions about the attribution of TV Shared Services Agreements (which the FCC is already scrutinizing under an Interim Policy adopted by the Media Bureau).
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The FCC is taking a close look at the video programming marketplace and gathering data that will undoubtedly shape its rules and policies in the coming years.  Its review comes in the form of a periodic assessment of the multichannel video programming industry required by the Communications Act.  By its Further Notice of Inquiry issued