Wheeler: Set-Top Proposal Doesn't Undercut Copyright

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has told legislators concerned about the impact of his set-top proposal on copyright that the combination of the FCC's historic recognition of the statutory rights of content owners, the specific statutes that prohibit the alteration of broadcasts or the theft of cable service containing copyrighted works, and "well-practiced contractual arrangements" will keep those rights safe.

That came in a response posted on the FCC website to letters from both Hill Republicans and Democrats including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.)

Wheeler said he believes the FCC proposal—to make set-top content available to third party navigation devices and apps as a spur to competition—"will improve consumer choice while respecting and protecting the exclusive rights of content creators."

He pointed out to the members of Congress that it was Congress that directed the FCC to promote competition in the device market for accessing pay TV and that the proposal was necessitated by the continuing lack of competition to rental boxes. "The statutory mandate is not yet fulfilled," he said.

"The goal of this rulemaking is to promote competition, innovation and consumer choice. It will not alter the rights that content owners have under the Copyright Act; nor will it encourage third parties to infringe on these rights," said Wheeler. 

Set-top fans and foes have been prominent on Capitol Hill this week. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) co-sponsored a press conference backing Wheeler and telling the FCC to vote a final order ASAP. But in the House Appropriations Committee, an FCC funding bill was approved on a party-line vote with a rider that would block the FCC set-top vote on a final order until impact studies requested by some members of Congress could be completed.

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.