Sen. Hatch Asks Wheeler to Assuage Set-Top Concerns

Tells FCC chairman he needs better explanation of impact on agreements

READ MORE: Our coverage of the FCC's set-top plan.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wants FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to explain to him just how the chairman's set-top box plan will protect copyrighted content when it appears to allow third parties to disregard licensing agreements that are key to protecting that content.

That came in a letter to the chairman and the other commissioners a copy of which was obtained by Multichannel News.

Hatch, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was worried the chairman's proposal, which would require MVPDs to make set-top content and data streams available to third parties for re-use in competitive navigation devices, would "upend carefully negotiated licensing agreements."

Hatch quoted Wheeler to Wheeler, pointing out that chairman had said back in February that the proposal “will not interfere with the business relationships or content agreements between MVPDs and their content providers” and “will not open up content to compromised security.”

Hatch said he was all for that, too, but asked for "all relevant information that will provide a clearer understanding of exactly how the proposed rules will ensure those objectives are met."

"While you have repeatedly said that copyright law will not be impacted by the proposal," wrote Hatch, "the terms of the licensing agreements between MVPDs and programmers are the key mechanism for protecting the copyrights of content owners, and these are the very terms that third-party devices and apps will be permitted to disregard under the FCC’s proposal." 

Hatch signaled his concerns to Wheeler and commissioner Ajit Pai at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law hearing last week.

He pointed out that the Judiciary Committee has exclusive jurisdiction over intellectual property protection and he was concerned about how the rules would impact the legal framework for video content protection, something MVPDs have said they are worried about, too.