Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ranking Member Conyers Statement at Hearing on Video Licenses

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing entitled, “Compulsory Video Licenses of Title 17.” During his opening remarks, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement:

U.S. Representative
John Conyers, Jr.
“The purpose of this hearing is to continue to examine the issues that may arise as Congress considers reauthorizing and updating the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA). The reauthorization involves portions of both the Communications Act and the Copyright Act.  The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the copyright portions of the bill. The provisions that fall under the Copyright Act include Section 119, the distant signal compulsory license that is set to expire at the end of this year. This distant signal license allows satellite carriers to provide an out of market station to consumers that are unserved by their local broadcaster. As we begin our deliberation of the issues, I want each of the witnesses to approach this hearing by keeping all options on the table,” said Conyers.

“I have three points I would like to highlight. First, as we discuss these issues today, we must ask whether the Section 119 license has outlived its purpose and whether we should extend it again. And if so, how long should it be extended. As we analyze these questions, however, we must ensure incentives remain in place to protect copyright. Copyright owners must be protected because it is their property that forms the basis for this entire system. Compulsory licenses are generally not favored by copyright owners because they distort the marketplace and result in below market rates being paid to the content owners. Copyright owners assert that they would fare better in private marketplace negotiations and that the licenses are no longer needed now that there is healthy competition in the cable and satellite industries.  And I would like the witnesses to address these concerns today.

“Second, assuming we decide to extend the Section 119 license, we should consider whether any other issues should be addressed. Among these is the impact that blackouts of local channels during disputed retransmission consent negotiations have on consumers, as well as the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the current statutory and regulatory system established in the Copyright and Communication Acts. We have seen that blackouts of major television networks affect consumers and seem to be occurring with greater frequency. I would like to hear from the witnesses how they believe this issue might be addressed with an eye toward both ensuring adequate compensation for creativity and providing healthy competition. Specifically, I would like to hear the witnesses discuss a possible change to the law that would allow interim carriage authority, which would temporarily permit a distant signal to be imported during a retransmission consent dispute. I believe that anything we do must protect consumers and safeguard competition.  Consumers generally benefit from increased competition because more competition produces lower prices and more variety and options. Consumers want to watch programming on their choice of television sets, phones and tablets no matter where they are.

“Third, we should ask what, if anything, we should be doing with regard to the compulsory licenses that do not expire – the Section 111 cable license and Section 122 Satellite local into local license. Section 302 of STELA required the Copyright Office to deliver a report to Congress that considered alternatives to the statutory licensing provisions in Section 111, 119 and 122 of the Copyright Act.  These sections govern the retransmission of distant and local television broadcast signals by cable operators and satellite carriers.                 The Copyright Office issued the 302 report in August 2011, and the report recommended replacement of the existing statutory regime with sublicensing, collective licensing and/or direct licensing as feasible alternatives to securing the public performance rights necessary to retransmit copyrighted content. I am sure our witness from the Copyright Office will speak about these market-based alternatives to statutory licensing and I would also like to hear what the other witnesses have to say about this topic.

“As we consider these issues, we want to continue to support innovation and ensure that we increase consumer choice. We must also focus on the principles of localism.  There is still a high value placed on local news and sports and the need for local channels to deliver community service and emergency information. I also recognize that people who subscribe to cable or satellite television have so many programming options, there is never a shortage of something to watch on television.  And we want these options to continue to grow. I know that there will be circumstances in which these principles will conflict.  I look forward to working to ensure that the public interest can best be served through satellite carriage of broadcast television signals. I intend to consider each of the options that will be discussed today by the witnesses and want to take a broad and expansive look at the different possibilities.  I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today and continuing to work with all of you on this complex issue.”

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