Key lawmakers have introduced legislation that would abolish the Copyright Royalty Tribunal, the federal agency that distributes cable TV payments to Hollywood programmers, professional sports leagues and local broadcasters.

The bill, offered by House copyright subcommittee chairman William Hughes (D-N.J.) and by Senate copyright subcommittee head Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), would reassign the CRT functions to the U.S. register of copyrights.

Presidential appointee

In addition, the legislation would make the register of copyrights a presidential appointee rather than an appointee of the Librarian of Congress. Thus, current register of copyrights Ralph Oman would be out of a job if the bill becomes law.

Interested parties will presumably be asked to comment publicly on the bill, which could put Hollywood and other copyright holders in a sticky position. It’s expected the Motion Picture Assn. of America will try to stay neutral on the legislation, if for no other reason than to avoid risking retaliation from CRT members and Oman should the legislation not become law.

Co-sponsoring the legislation were Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking Republican on DeConcini’s panel, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a member of Hughes’ panel.

In a statement, Hughes called the CRT “an agency that is both broken and unnecessary.” The three members of the tribunal “have very little to do” and “spend most of their time feuding,” per Hughes, who noted that CRT members make $ 111,800 per year.

Truancy at issue

D.C. sources said the move to kill the CRT has been in the works for months after reports surfaced of friction between CRT chairman Cindy Daub and past tribunal members. Complaints have also surfaced that CRT members do not show up for work regularly.

Daub conceded that there have been squabbles among CRT members. However, she said, “I don’t know of any government agency or private industry in which officials don’t have honest differences.” Daub also disputed claims that CRT members don’t often come to work. Tribunal members “absolutely” work Monday through Friday, she claimed.

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