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FCC Media Bureau Chief Lake: Agency Yet To Decide Whether To Grant MPAA Waiver Request

Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau chief Bill Lake says the bureau has not yet decided whether or not to grant the Motion Picture Association of America's request for a waiver of the commission's prohibition on selectable output controls on set-top boxes.

The studios want to be able to selectively block the copying of HD movies via cable set-top boxes in order to move up the multichannel video on demand HD window for films while still protecting the DVD window.

Public Knowledge, which opposes the waiver, joined with other groups to send a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski restating their opposition after they said they got signals the Media Bureau was about to rule in the studio's favor.

"We are actively looking at it but no decisions have been made," Lake told Multichannel News Friday. Parties on both sides of the issue have been actively talking to the bureau in recent weeks as action has appeared to heat up on the waiver request, which is over a year old.

Someone familiar with the Media Bureau vetting suggested that the impression a decision was iminent or that it was going the studio's way might have resulted from the tough questions bureau staffers were asking both sides when parties come in to make their cases, akin to trying to guess which way an appeals court will go by the probing, something devil's advocate, interrogations of judges.

Fair use fans Public Knowledge and other public-interest groups early on asked the FCC to deny the waiver, saying it would "frustrate consumer expectations regarding their home-theater equipment and will give movie studios unprecedented and undesirable control over the design and use of home electronics equipment."

Also opposed is the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which said not long after the waiver request was made that allowing the major studios to "remotely shut off a particular output on a program-by-program basis" would harm program diversity by diminishing access to independent films like those of their members.

Theater owners are also concerned that the studios are shortening their distribution windows and migrating their movies to other distribution platforms -- like cable and satellite--that they can more easily control.