Senate Passes Copyright-Fee Freeze


Washington -- The Senate last week passed a spending bill
that would temporarily freeze an increase in copyright fees paid by home-dish owners who
purchase superstation and distant-network signals.

In January, the monthly fee increased to 27 cents per
subscriber for network or superstation signals, in an action taken by the Librarian of
Congress. The old rates were 6 cents for networks and either 14 cents or 17.5 cents for

An amendment was added to the Commerce, Justice, and State
Appropriations Bill (S. 2260) requiring that the 1997 rates remain in effect until March
31, 1999.

Until S. 2260 becomes law, however, the satellite services
must pay the 27-cent rate to the U.S. Copyright Office. The first payment is due by the
end of July.

Before adoption of the March 31, 1999, date, Senate
Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) had won approval to extend the freeze
until Jan. 1, 2000.

But the March 31 date was agreed to as a compromise between
McCain and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

McCain has been pushing for a rollback of the 27-cent rate
since October. He viewed the rollback as critical to promoting satellite competition to
cable operators.

Hatch said he hopes to use the next eight months to rewrite
the Satellite Home Viewer Act -- especially provisions that will "increase the range
of options that television viewers will have."

Hatch is sponsoring legislation (S. 1720) that would allow
direct-broadcast satellite carriers to beam local-TV signals back into their markets of
origin. But Hatch would require that if one local station is retransmitted, all of them
must be -- a position that McCain disagrees with.

The increase to 27 cents angered the DBS industry, which
attracts and retains rural subscribers by offering them network programming that
originates from stations in distant major cities.

The satellite industry said the 27-cent rate was unfair
because cable systems pay far less for the same programming.

The Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, which
made the initial rate-increase recommendation to Librarian of Congress James Billington,
said its rates reflected "fair-market value" for the signals, and they were
based on the license fees that satellite carriers pay to distribute the 12 most popular
cable-programming services.