Backers of FCC set-top box plan push back on Copyright Office

Backers of FCC set-top box plan push back on Copyright Office
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Supporters of a Federal Communications Commission item opening up the market for television set-top boxes are pushing back on concerns from the Copyright Office about the proposal.

Content creators have expressed worries that if the market is subject to the planned reforms it will rip apart the agreements between creators and video providers. In a Wednesday letter, the Copyright Office echoed the concerns.

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“The Office’s principal reservation is that, as currently proposed, the rule could interfere with copyright owners’ rights to license their works as provided by copyright law, and restrict their ability to impose reasonable conditions on the use of those works through the private negotiations that are the hallmark of the vibrant and dynamic [video provider] marketplace,” said Register of Copyrights Chief Maria Pallante to members of Congress in the letter.

“Indeed, the Obama administration and the FCC itself have highlighted the importance of such private licensing arrangements in enabling the production, acquisition, and distribution of [video provider] programming.”

The proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would require video providers — Comcast, for example — to open up their feeds to outside companies that wanted to make their own set-top boxes. But some in industry and in Washington have said that will endanger the deals that content creators reach with pay-television companies about how their content should be treated.

Public interest advocates, important supporters of the proposal, criticized the letter on Wednesday evening.

“This letter is another example of how the Copyright Office has become dedicated to the interests of some copyright holders — as opposed to providing an accurate interpretation of copyright law,” said John Bergmayer of Public Knowledge. “The FCC must reject the Copyright Office's attempt to broadly expand the scope of copyright law at the expense of competition, consumer welfare, and other policy goals — while running roughshod over fair use, a critical and constitutionally-required component of copyright.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Mitch Stoltz wrote that the “Copyright Office should have seen through Hollywood’s attempt to shut out competition through a misinterpretation of copyright law.”

The commission welcomed the letter but said that Wheeler's proposal protected copyright.

"As Chairman Wheeler has said, the Commission will ensure programmers’ contracts and copyright are protected as we move ahead with rules to give consumers more choice for accessing content as required by law," said a spokesperson in a statement. "We appreciate the Copyright Office’s input.”

The proposal is expected to be voted on later this year by the full commission. It will likely undergo changes before Wheeler brings it up for consideration.

—This report was updated at 11:05 a.m.