Sen. Tillis to Biden: Withdraw Sohn FCC Nomination

Gigi Sohn
(Image credit: Public Knowledge)

FCC nominee Gigi Sohn's history of championing fair use carveouts from copyrighted content has drawn the ire of North Carolina Republican Senator Tom Tillis, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked the President to withdraw her nomination to a seat on the FCC.

In a letter to President Joe Biden Tuesday (Nov. 20), on the eve of Sohn's nomination hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, Tillis said that he had many concerns about Sohn, chief among them her "history as an anticopyright activist."

Also: NAB Raises Red Flag Over Sohn Locast Directorship

As head of Public Knowledge, Sohn advocated for "fair use" of copyright material--the legally protected unlicensed use of copyrighted works in some instances like criticism, commentary, and scholarship--particularly so-called "transformative" uses--over what her group argued was overprotection by studios and other content owners.

But one person's protector of transformative unlicensed uses is Tillis' "radical open-content activist" defender of piracy with no respect for intellectual property rights.

He told the President that Sohn has for decades undercut copyright policies and laws and worked against commonsense approaches to curtailing that piracy.

In his letter, Tillis echoed broadcasters' concerns about Sohn's directorship role at TV station signal streamer Locast, whose business model of nonprofit streaming without paying a fee to content providers a court ruled violated copyright protections. "In Ms. Sohn's current position at Georgetown's Institute for Technology and Law Policy, he said, "she condemned media companies for trying to protect their content from unauthorized streaming from Locast."

Tillis also complained about Sohn's role as advisor to then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, whom she advised to open up cable set-top boxes "in ways that would guarantee a surge in piracy." Wheeler did tee up an open set-top box proposal in 2016, but failed to secure the necessary three Democratic votes, in part because then commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel did not agree with Wheeler's approach.

Tillis said that as someone who believes in strong intellectual property protections, Sohn's record is disqualifying. ■

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.