Satcasters pin hopes on retrans relief bill

MPAA wants Copyright decision to stand

WASHINGTON — Satcasters are hoping Congress will approve a stand-alone bill to rescind a $50 million hike in royalty fees owed by DBS companies.

In a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders of the House, more than 150 representatives urged passage of a bill that would reverse a Copyright Office decision to hike fees paid by satcasters for rights to retransmit broadcast channels.

The bill has been put on a fast track, with language stripped out from broader legislation that addressed other issues, including a controversial measure that would allow satcasters to offer a package of programming that includes local TV stations.

MPAA opposition

The Motion Picture Assn. of America opposes any change to the copyright formulas as it was approved by the Copyright Office last year. The MPAA’s movie studio members are direct beneficiaries of a royalty pool in which the fees are deposited.

Citing marketplace realities, the Copyright Office decided last year to hike the monthly fee to 27¢ per channel per subscriber. In contrast, cable pays only 3¢ for the same rights.

Satcasters and some members of Congress say it is unfair to charge cable one set of fees and DBS companies another. However, the Copyright Office does not have the power to adjust cable’s royalty fees, which are codified in legislation.

Nonetheless, satcasters and members of Congress insist that DBS will be at a competitive disadvantage unless there is royalty fee parity. Despite widespread support for the measure in Congress, it is not clear if legislators will have time to approve the bill before returning home in two weeks to campaign for midterm elections.

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