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MLB Asks Congress to Get Rid of Compulsory Licenses

Major League Baseball is asking Congress to get rid of the compulsory license that allows satellite operators (and cable operators) to import network affilated TV station signals without the consent of the copyright holders of content on those stations, content like MLB baseball games on local TV stations and Fox network's national contract.

According to the prepared testimony of MLB attorney Robert Garrett for the Sept. 10 House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on satellite TV regulations, the satellite compulsory license, and cable's similar license, "divest Baseball of any ability to negotiate with satellite carriers and cable systems over the terms on which those services commercially exploit broadcasts of MLB games."

MLB calls the licenses unfair, an impediment to the free marketplace, and an administrative cost burden on Baseball. Garrett also argues that the blanket license does not provide fair market value for the content, with cable operators paying less than a half percent of their $66 billion in video revenues for the compulsory license covering what MLB argues is some of their most valuable TV programming.

Congress is preparing to decide whether to allow the distant signal compulsory license (contained in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act [STELA]) to be extended or sunset at the end of 2014.  To that end, the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet is holding a hearing on STELA, while the Communications Subcommittee will hold a hearing on video regulation Sept. 11 that is expected to get into some of the same territory.