WASHINGTON -Al Gore's Nashville, Tenn., campaign headquarters viewed news from around the country over out-of-town local TV stations via DirecTV Inc., meaning that the satellite carrier likely violated a copyright law President Clinton signed last year.
A Gore spokesman said on Nov. 2 that the headquarters had been equipped with a satellite dish that provided access to local network affiliates from 20 markets. "It's just like we were in the Chicago market or Philadelphia," campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said.
A spokesman for DirecTV, the nation's leading direct-broadcast satellite provider, said a day later that the
company had hooked up Vice President Gore's headquarters to receive local TV affiliates of NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox from dozens of markets.
"We authorized them to receive the feeds in all of our local markets," DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said. DirecTV currently provides local signals in 37 markets.
Both Pfeiffer and Mercer said the local signals were received legally. Mercer said that was the case because the Gore campaign obtained permission from Nashville's network affiliates to receive the out-of-town feeds.
However, one station official reached for comment said that was inaccurate.
Mike Sechrist, vice president and general manager of WKRN, Nashville's ABC affiliate, said no one from the Gore camp had obtained permission to bring in a competing ABC signal. Sechrist said he was not troubled though, and he would have granted permission had the Gore campaign sought it for election night or a little longer.
"If they had asked, we would have said yes," he added. The copyright law President Clinton signed on Nov. 29, 1999, restricts eligibility to receive distant-network signals. The law is often firm because local affiliates do not want to lose audience members.
The Gore campaign was ineligible because reception of distant network signals via satellite is restricted to private home viewing in households that cannot receive adequate off-air signals from local stations.
What's more, households eligible to receive distant-network signals via satellite may not receive more than two stations affiliated with the same network.
Two Washington copyright attorneys said that based on the facts as they knew them, DirecTV had violated copyright law, but the Gore campaign had not.
The Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act and the Communication Act include $50,000 fines for each violation and for each day of continuing violation.
One copyright attorney said the law required DirecTV as the provider of distant market signals-not the Gore campaign as the recipient of them-to obtain waivers from the Nashville affiliates.
DirecTV won't encounter any fallout unless the Nashville stations or copyright owners of programs carried by the stations decide to take the DBS carrier to court for copyright infringement. The U.S. Copyright Office is not an enforcement agency.
Mercer said DirecTV had not provided the same out-of-town local TV service to the Austin, Texas, campaign headquarters of the Republican nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Bush campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan confirmed that the campaign did not have such satellite feeds.