A federal appeals court has struck down a lower court’s decision granting satellite carriers of network programming and superstation signals such as WTBS the same compulsory copyright license protection afforded cable TV systems.
The March 25 ruling from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is the latest twist in a long-running bid by cable’s competitors to gain compulsory license parity with traditional cable operators.
Those industries fighting hardest for parity include wireless cable operators and satellite carriers who distribute programming to the home satellite dish market.
By virtue of compulsory license lingo added to the 1976 Copyright Act, cable systems pay a modest, government-set fee for the right to distant programming. The proceeds are split among copyright owners such as Hollywood studios, professional sports leagues and local broadcasters.
Last week, a Senate subcommittee voted to extend compulsory license protection to the satellite carriers until 1999. The Satellite Home Viewer Act is expected to be signed into law this year — particularly in light of the federal court’s decision — but D.C. sources said the broadcast networks are fighting for language that would force satellite carriers to pay a fair market value for programming.
Hollywood has long fought the concept of a compulsory license, claiming that cablers and other distribution technologies should pay a fair market price for shows. That’s a view shared by the U.S. Copyright Office.
And after a district court in Atlanta overturned the Copyright Office decision, the appellate court ruled that the Copyright Office is the “expert agency” in the case and that its opinion is binding.
Andy Paul, senior veepee of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communciations Assn., said his group may appeal.