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Studio suits target cablers

MPAA member companies last week began filing lawsuits against 9,000 U.S. cable TV operators, claiming they are owed $ 15 million in interest on cable copyright royalty payments.

In 1986, the cable industry filed suit against the U.S. Copyright Office’s scheme for collecting cable copyright payments on behalf of programmers.

That suit, filed by the multisystem operator Cablevision, sought to have the Copyright Office collection plan invalidated on grounds that cable TV systems were being overcharged for the right to carry some copyrighted programs.

A district court initially held in favor of Cablevision. However, an appellate court 17 months later upheld the U.S. Copyright Office collection process. The Copyright Office then ordered cablers to fork over $ 105 million in royalty payments to compensate Hollywood studios for programming during the 17 months.

MPAA member companies gladly accepted the $ 105 million, but argued they are also entitled to interest amounting to about $ 15 million on the coin. The studios initially asked the U.S. Copyright Office to order cable operators to make “retroactive” interest payments; the Copyright Office turned thumbs down on the request.

In 1991, the studios asked a Florida judge for permission to file a class action suit in a single court against all cable systems in the United States alleged to have “underpaid” on interest charges.

The Florida judge nixed the class action request on June 25, however, prompting the studios to launch suits against cable systems individually throughout the U.S.

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