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Content Owners Getting $750 Million In Copyright License Back Payments

Over the next few months, Hollywood studios, stations, sports leagues and others will be divvying up a pot of $750 million in royalties.

TV stations' take of that will be about $120 million (about $75 million from cable and another $45 million or so from satellite), which the National Association of Broadcasters will be distributing in a May-June time period, according to a source familiar with the payments. Those payments cover TV stations news and other local programming.

That payment comes after Copyright Royalty judges in March freed up that $750 million in payments, according to the Library of Congress, payments that cover disputes resolved by the judges covering 2004 and 2005, with the 2006-2009 funds coming from a negotiated settlement between the parties for 2006-2009.

It is the largest payout in the six-year history of the panel, the Library of Congress said in announcing the royalty payout.

The judges are part of a statutory body overseeing payments by satellite and cable operators under compulsory licenses. Those blanket licenses allow them to retransmit broadcast programming without negotiating individual payments to the various content providers for each program. Instead they pay into a pool of money then distributed either by private agreement or determination of the judges. Copyright holders must file annually for their payments, either by private agreement or a decision by the judges if there are disputes.  

"This is a significant milestone, representing the successful conclusion of years of negotiation and effort to clear this backlog of payments owed to content creators," said Chief Judge James Sledge in a statement. "This is exactly what this panel was intended to do, and now that these years-old disputes are cleared, we are well-positioned to meet the goal of clearing disputes going forward on a two-year timetable." 

A few disputes remain from that six-year time frame, with additional royalties expected to be distributed through the end of this year. The board is retaining $33 million -- $20 million in cable royalties and $13 million in satellite -- to cover those.

Some broadcasters and studios would prefer to negotiate with cable and satellite companies on a per-program basis rather than through a blanket license since they think they could get more money for their content. It might also speed the payday.