Rights Owners Push Copyright Issues

A group of copyright owners, including NAB and claimants from public television, devotional, sports and music copyright holders, among others, have filed comments concerning the Library of Congress' Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry regarding the retransmission of digital broadcast signals pursuant to the cable statutory license. The copyright owners argue that the same general principles applied to retransmission of analog programs should apply to retransmission of digital broadcast program streams and said, "Separate rules for retransmission of digital broadcast are unnecessary."

The NOI asked how the office should "determine the coverage area of a broadcast licensee's digital television transmission for cable copyright purposes, especially in the context of significantly viewed signals." The copyright owners note that the FCC set the Grade B and the noise limited coverage contour areas to be generally equivalent. With regard to significantly viewed status, the copyright owners said if the analog signal has significantly viewed status in a specific community, its digital counterpart should have the same status for that community.

While few, if any, cable companies require special set-top boxes or service subscriptions to receive analog broadcast TV stations, cable subscribers may be required to subscribe to a more expensive service tier or rent a set-top box or CableCARD to see digital broadcast TV. The copyright owners argue that these fees must be included in gross receipts calculations.

One of the questions in the NOI asked how the copyright office should "determine whether a distant digital broadcast signal is permitted or non-permitted for Distant Signal Equivalent Purposes." In their comments, the copyright owners said they "believe that no distinction should be made in the application of the existing rules based on broadcast format; rather, each signal and each stream of a multicast signal should be evaluated separately to determine if it would have been permitted under commission rules in effect on June 24, 1981." In cases where a cable operator was carrying only one distant independent station in analog format, but the station was transmitting two programs in digital, only one of the digital streams would be "permitted."