Ottawa Backs U.S. Demand For Fees

The USA Network and U.S. superstations WTBS, WPIX, WOR and WGN are one step closer to coming into Canada on the country’s paycable tier.

Canada’s federal broadcast regulator gave them permission four years ago, but the outlets were barred by the U.S. State Dept. until Canadian cable systems paid copyright fees for all programs they beam into the U.S.

In December, Canada’s cabinet said those fees must be paid.

Under terms of the now two-year-old U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, Canadian cable operators no longer can pick up programming from U.S. outlets free of charge as they had been doing.

Because of public hearings, the situation was in limbo for much of 1990.

In October, the Canadian Copyright Board ruled that Canadian cable companies had to pay copyright fees totaling $C50 million a year. These fees would be paid retroactive to Jan. 1, 1990. U.S. suppliers would get 85% of the overall tariff. Suppliers of Canadian programs, picked up by cable systems outside their immediate areas, would get the remaining 15%.

Cable companies agreed they must pay copyright fees, but argued that tariffs were set much too high. Payments were not made pending an appeal by the Canadian Cable Assn. to the federal cabinet. In late December, the cabinet rejected the appeal.

The Canadian Cable Assn. now will seek a judicial review by the Canadian federal court. That could send the fee schedule back to the Copyright Board for further consideration.

If copyright payments are made, the USA Network and the superstations will be added to the paycable tier, which currently consists of a Canadian-owned movie channel and Canadian-owned Family Channel.

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