U.S. Copyright Office questions FCC’s set-top plan

James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress (Credit: U.S. Copyright Office)

The U.S. Copyright Office has joined the list of parties expressing concerns with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to loosen the grip cable and satellite TV providers have on the leased set-top box market.

In a letter to four U.S. lawmakers, the Copyright Office voiced concerns that the FCC’s proposed rules to open up the pay-TV set-top market to third-party vendors like Apple and Google would interfere with programming deals and lessen copyright holders’ ability to properly license their content.

The Copyright Office said it was “hopeful that the FCC will refine its approach as necessary to avoid conflicts with copyright law and authors’ interests under that law,” according to a Wall Street Journal report.

In response to the Copyright Office’s letter, Public Knowledge Senior Staff Attorney John Bergmayer issued a strong rebuttal and point out the letter’s “many inaccuracies” like improperly referring to CableCARD as a “hard-wired” technology. Bergmayer also questioned the Copyright Office’s service to consumers and pointed out its apparent failure to address the Congressional mandate to increase competition in the set-top market.

“Under the Copyright Office's analysis, the interests of consumers are irrelevant, and fair use is an obstacle to be overcome. This letter is another example of how the Copyright Office has become dedicated to the interests of some copyright holders -- as opposed to providing an accurate interpretation of copyright law,” Bergmayer wrote. “It is strange that such a detailed legal analysis, provided at the request of some members of Congress, fails to address the FCC's statutory mandate. Congress already told the FCC to promote set-top box competition. Copyright licensing negotiations take place against a backdrop of laws passed by Congress and implemented by agencies like the FCC -- they are not a means for cable or programming companies to bypass the Communications Act.”

As proponents of the proposed “Unlock the Box” rules continue to push back against opposition, more lawmakers are joining the chorus of detractors calling for the FCC to drastically alter or abandon the proposal.

Last week, U.S. House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the proposal is “deeply flawed and should be abandoned.” Scalise’s comments came a day after Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said that “vibrant competition” already exists in the video marketplace and that Wheeler’s proposal would only serve to create new problems, particularly for smaller providers.

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal article

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