Washington -- Video streaming of local TV stations
won't be coming to computer screens near you any time soon.
At a House hearing last week, chieftains from Hollywood,
broadcasting and collegiate sports made it clear that they oppose allowing Internet
distribution of their programming until some kind of compensation scheme has been worked
Internet distribution, reaching anyone in the world with a
computer and modem, would shatter the market-by-market licensing of televised movies,
sports and various forms of syndicated programming, they said.
Jack Valenti, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of
America, said Congress should resist giving Internet-service providers the same rights as
cable operators and satellite carriers to retransmit local TV signals without permission
of copyright owners.
Cable and satellite each have a compulsory license to
retransmit local TV stations, but as a rule, they may not distribute those signals beyond
the stations' local markets.
"I am not asking the Congress to do anything
specific," Valenti said. "All I am asking you to do is to be very cautious and
wary about granting compulsory licenses to anybody."
Valenti said he had formed a new coalition called the
Copyright Assembly to block changes in law that would promote Webcasting practices that
are harmful to the movies, sports leagues, cable networks and a host of others. The
National Cable Television Association is a coalition member.
Former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.), now president of the
University of Oklahoma, said he was alarmed that college-football and basketball games are
appearing on the Internet. TV revenue, he added, supports his university's sports
programs, and uncompensated Internet distribution would reduce "the revenue stream
that is absolutely essential to student athletics."
The backdrop for the hearing was a suit filed by Hollywood
studios, TV networks and sports leagues against TVRadio Now Corp.'s iCraveTV, a
Toronto-based Web site that streamed Buffalo, N.Y., TV stations over the Internet. A
federal judge ordered iCraveTV to stop.
House Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman Billy Tauzin
(R-La.) indicated that he had no plans to advance legislation that would provide
Webcasters like iCraveTV with compulsory licenses.
"I don't think we are there yet at all,"
Tauzin said. "Content is our nation's richest export product, and it should not
be unwittingly exposed to piracy."
Although lawmakers said they were respectful of the rights
of copyright owners, they predicted that consumers would demand access to their local TV
signals over the Internet.
Tauzin said that when he's in Washington, D.C., he
wants to know what's going on back home.
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said he can hear Boston Red
Sox games over the Internet. "I want to be able to watch, too," he added.
Other lawmakers said it was inevitable that new technology
would overtake the old.
"Webcasting is good. It's good for consumers who
are provided with an alternative to cable, satellite and terrestrial broadcast," Rep.
Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) said.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) said he wanted to be careful,
but he added that Congress should not "stymie competition" between the Internet
and traditional media.
Ian Mccallum, vice president of iCraveTV, told
Tauzin's panel that iCraveTV's actions are legal in Canada (although Canadian
broadcasters are also suing the company), and that his company never intended to violate
U.S. law. He said copyright owners deserved to be compensated or iCraveTV's source of
programming would dry up.
"We are not pirates -- never have been, never will
be," Mccallum said, adding that his company was not currently seeking a compulsory
license from Congress.
He added that iCraveTV was close to introducing a
technology that would block streamed TV signals over the Web from leaving their home