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Supreme anticipation

Past Roberts' ruling went against studios

With Judge John Roberts presiding, Hollywood fought the law — and the law won.

That may be all showbiz and media types need to remember when wondering how President Bush‘s nominee to the Supreme Court may view any future cases involving the entertainment industry.

As a member of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Roberts wrote the decision in a case brought by MGM and Universal City Studios against the U.S. Copyright Office, which had denied their claims for royalties on cable and satellite retransmissions of protected TV broadcasts in 2000.

The office received the claims on Aug. 2, 2001, a mere 24 hours after deadline. And an exception could’ve been made if the studios could produce a postal receipt showing the claims had been mailed prior to Aug. 1.

But Roberts took a dim view of the case’s merits, writing tartly, “Even at this remove, we can sense the intensity of the searches that these letters must have precipitated, but neither studio was able to locate a receipt. Lacking a receipt, the studios mobilized their lawyers.”

After a lower court rejected initial challenge of the denial, Roberts dispatched the appeal in a 12-page decision essentially saying the studios were looking for a special favor, which he wasn’t going to grant.

“The copyright regulations themselves — all of them — define what constitutes proper filing,” Roberts wrote. “And under those regulations, the studios are out of luck.”

Ouch.

The decision was, however, consistent with others he either wrote or supported in media-related cases.

In one involving a federal mandate about digital TV tuners and another stemming from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Roberts focused narrowly on congressional statutes either as written or as interpreted by a governmental agency.

In other words, anyone expecting sympathy or understanding from hizzoner for extenuating circumstances will be, um, see above.

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