Cable Wants Out of Bill

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Harrisburg, Pa.-Pennsylvania cable operators want to be exempted from a bill making the rounds in their state legislature that would punish the media for commercial use of individual's faces or photographs without the express consent of the subjects.

Rep. Jess Stairs (R-Westmoreland) introduced the bill. The House bill was apparently inspired by the use in commercials of footage of the late John Wayne that was digitally altered without the consent of his estate. The Pennsylvania bill would require print and video publishers to get written or oral permission to broadcast images from the individual or the party's representatives.

The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee, and it carries a provision for damages of an amount approximating a royalty fee, plus punitive and exemplary damages.

The legislation excludes bona fide news stories, but print publishers and the cable industry hope the exclusionary categories will be broadened. The "image bill" would create a chilling effect on non-breaking-news reporting, they argued. Additionally, cable companies are concerned that they could be found liable for programming that they do not originate, but only retransmit.

Pennsylvania Cable and Telecommunications Association president Bill Cologie said Judiciary Committee members "appear to be most sensitive" to the impact of the bill as currently worded. Industry officials believe the bill will be amended into "something we can live with," he added.

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