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ACA’s Polka Comments On U.S. Copyright Office's Section 302 Report

ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka called on Congress to retain the copyright compulsory license for independent cable operators in response to a new report by the U.S. Copyright Office that three statutory licenses governing the retransmission of traditional broadcast television signals by cable and satellite TV service providers should be phased out and replaced by market-based licensing mechanisms.

"For more than 35 years, Section 111 has cleared copyright for cable carriage of ‘distant' TV signals. In adopting this license, Congress recognized that many cable systems in rural areas, especially those on the outskirts of Designated Market Areas (DMAs), offered ‘distant' signals because ‘local' TV signals were unavailable or limited," Polka said. "Rural consumers benefited then, and still do today. For some consumers, ‘local' TV stations are actually located in another state and the importation of ‘distant' TV stations can provide them with in-state news and political coverage.  For others, ‘distant' TV signals provide vital weather warnings that come prior to the event instead of during or after."

The 168-page report, prepared at the request of Congress, was submitted on Aug. 29 by Maria A. Pallante, Register of Copyrights.

"ACA is troubled that the Copyright Office would target the ‘distant' TV license for elimination in its new report. As ACA and others have made clear, abolishing this license would harm consumers, particularly those who reside in rural areas and value receipt of out-of-market TV signals," Polka said. "While ACA does not agree with the primary recommendations of the Copyright Office, ACA appreciates that the Copyright Office urged Congress to evaluate the concerns of stakeholders who operate with limited resources, like smaller cable operators, to determine whether lawmakers should give special consideration to these entities before phasing out any licenses.

For many years, the Copyright Office has advocated negotiated licenses in lieu of statutory licenses, especially with regard to the retransmission of broadcast TV signals.  

"In all, the Copyright Office's recommendations to eliminate the cable and satellite compulsory licenses must be put in context. The Copyright Office first recommended abolishing the cable license in 1981. It has made this same recommendation to Congress numerous times in reports over the last 30 years, most recently in 2008.  Yet, despite these many suggestions, Congress has always decided that the best course of action for consumers was to renew the license. ACA hopes that Congress will once again stay this wise course," Polka said.

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