Copyright Office to Hill: Let STELAR Expire

In a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, the Copyright Office has once again recommended that Congress let the satellite compulsory copyright license (STELAR Act) expire, saying the section 119 copyright license "is more ripe for expiration than ever." 

The act, which allows satellite operators to import distant network-affiliated TV station signals, has to be reauthorized every five years or it sunsets, as it will by the end of this year unless renewed. 

Related: NAB's Smith Says STELAR Should Expire

The Copyright Office administers the blanket license, and satellite operator payments for it.

"Although the Copyright Office has long supported permitting copyright owners to develop marketplace licensing options to replace the compulsory licenses...the case for removing the section 119 compulsory license in favor of less-regulated alternatives has never been stronger than today," the office told Congress.

The letter came as both the House and Senate begin to drill down on the license in hearings this week.

"A statutory license creates an artificial, government-regulated market that operates as an exception to the general rule that copyright owners hold exclusive rights and can negotiate whether and how and at what cost to distribute their copyrighted works; statutory licenses tend to be below the fair market value," it said. "The section 119 compulsory license also imposes a secondary cost on rightsholders: administrative fees related to the Copyright Office collecting royalties from satellite providers and distributing them to rightsholders.

"The distant signal license may also negatively impact subscribers: several Members of Congress recently expressed concern that the section 119 compulsory license provides satellite operators with a financial incentive to deny subscribers local broadcast stations—including the news, weather, and emergency information carried by those local broadcast stations—and instead import distant broadcasts at below-market rates."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.