Skip to main content

Copyright exemptions have no place in STELA review, says attorney

Gerry Waldron, an attorney representing NAB, testified Sept.10 during a House subcommittee hearing that local broadcast TV should continue to remain available to American households and that a review of STELA (Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act) should not be used to create new exemptions to copyright law.

Testifying at a hearing on “Satellite Television Laws in Title 17,” held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, Waldron said such exemptions could “undermine” contracts between broadcasters and satellite or cable companies “that enable broadcasting’s local focus.”

Waldron, a partner with Covington & Burling, recommended the subcommittee should ask whether the expiring Section 119 distant signal license continues to promote localism and is in the public interest. In previous times when the backyard satellite industry first began and later as DISH and DirecTV launched in the mid-90s the license “served its purpose,” he said. Now it is “a vestige of a bygone era,” Waldron continued.

“Today, more than 98 percent of all U.S. television households can view their local network affiliates by satelliteand that number is growing all the time,” he testified. “No public policy justifies treating satellite subscribers in local-into-local markets as ‘unserved,’ which would deprive viewers of the benefits of locally-focused service.”

Waldron also told the subcommittee that testimony it likely will hear from those seeking exemptions to the copyright laws that would “undermine broadcasters’ retransmission consent rights.”

Arguments that broadcasters have too much leverage in negotiating retransmission consent or that they are responsible for high cable TV bills are incorrect, said Waldron.

Waldron said both broadcasters and pay-TV providers have an incentive to complete retransmission deals before subscriber service is disrupted. According to Waldron, only one-hundredth of one percent of annual TV service disruptions are due to an impasse during retransmission consent negotiations.

The common denominator to disruptions due to stalled negotiations is Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and DISH, he said. “Since 2012 these three companies have been party to 89 percent of broadcast television carriage disruptions nationwide,” said Waldron.

Waldron also told the subcommittee that NAB has demonstrated that broadcast retransmission consent bills are responsible for 2 cents of every cable bill dollar.