Copyright Office Head Affirms STELAR Expiry Stance

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a one-person party on Capitol Hill this morning (6/26) as Karyn A. Temple, Register of Copyrights and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office, was the lone witness to testify at a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the office.


During the hearing, Temple answered questions regarding a touchy subject that impacts many U.S. broadcast TV station owners.

The queries dealt with the expiration of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR), a distant signal license that AT&T-owned DirecTV still employs in some of the nation’s smallest DMAs.

The rule allows satellite TV providers to pipe in distant broadcast TV network programming from an ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX affiliate from New York or Los Angeles into a local TV market, rather than “the local TV stations serving that community,” as interpreted by the NAB, which wants STELAR sunsetted.

The counterargument: There are no “local” TV stations serving the community, hence the whole point of STELAR.

In truth, the DMAs impacted by STELAR could have access to the closest network affiliate, which would at least deliver in-state news, sports, weather and other information. DISH does this. DirecTV has resisted.

In early June, the Copyright Office – the agency charged with administering STELAR’s license – released a report calling for its expiration.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked about the upcoming expiration of STELAR. “One concern I frequently hear is that letting this statutory license expire will result in thousands of people losing access to television,” he said. “Since the office supports letting the license expire, what is your response to this concern?”

Temple responded, “We have studied this issue in the Copyright Office for several years.”

The Copyright Office issued two comprehensive reports “several years ago” recommending STELAR’s expiration, she noted.

“Recently at your request we reviewed and analyzed those issues again,” Temple continued. “We concluded that in the last five years between 2014 and 2019 the actual royalties that we received under the Section 119 license has dropped precipitously. So, its dropped between 85% to 99% in terms of the royalties that come in. That license is really not being utilized in the market.”

She added that the Copyright Office recently noted that the marketplace “has risen up to address issues with respect to satellite transmission and that those underserved markets are not being underserved in the way that they had been in the past.”

Temple said, “The Copyright Office has always said that we view compulsory licenses as only needed in market failure. And, in this instance we have concluded that there is no market failure that justifies those licenses.”

Arizona Republican Debbie Lesko expressed concerns about people that own recreational vehicles, as well as truckers. What are their options?

Temple gave a non-answer answer.

“We looked at this issue for many years and we think that the usage of that license has really dropped significantly and so there will not be a significant harm to those rural communities that have relied on the license in the past and that the free market will allow for other entities to come up and allow for the actual usage of various satellite transmissions, so we don’t think that it needs to be done rather through a compulsory license but it can be done through the free marketplace,” she said.

Among those supporting STELAR’s expiration in the House are Rep. Michael Cloud, a Texas Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and Science, Space and Technology.

— RBR+TVBR’s Washington, D.C., bureau, with additional reporting from Adam R Jacobson at the First Democratic Debate in Miami


Note: RBR+TVBR incorrectly reported, based on NAB information, that Cloud served on the Judiciary Committee and on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the FCC, on June 27, 2019.

 

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