House Democrats Highlight Set-Top Pushback

Say they want to correct impression that creative community favors proposal
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A trio of Democratic House members have written their colleagues to disabuse them of the notion, if they have gotten it, that the content industry supports FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's set-top box proposal.

That is just the latest pushback from legislators from Wheeler's own party who have expressed concerns about the proposal's impact on copyrights and diverse programming, among other issues.

Two congressmen from California, Adam Schiff and Tony Cárdenas, joined by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) in writing a "dear colleague" letter to other House members to set the record straight, as they see it.

"You may have seen or heard suggestions that the content industry is supportive of the FCC’s proposed rule," they wrote—FCC chairman Tom Wheeler made such a pitch in a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus, according to a Hill staffer familiar with the meeting. "To the contrary, there are substantial concerns on the part of the content industry, including television, film, and music, regarding the impact of the proposed rule on copyright protections, existing licensing agreements, and the rights of content creators."

The legislators made their point pointedly, listing the content creators—over 30 of them—who had filed comments including the Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America and SAG-AFTRA—and linking to the FCC docket where their comments could be found.

The legislators argue that the rights of content owners are not protected in the proposal and that third parties can skirt licensing agreements, raising serious legal issues as well as issues of fairness.

"This rule will have far-reaching implications on the fundamental right of creators to control the fruits of their labors and how they are made available to consumers and the public," they said, adding that "it could have the effect of making less content available to consumers in new formats and through new mediums at a time when consumers are benefiting from an explosion in new options to view or listen to their favorite shows, movies, and music."

Cardenas and others warned the FCC before the vote on the proposal that they were worried it did not sufficiently protect copyrights, contractual channel placements, privacy and diversity.

MVPDs have been making those same arguments, but Wheeler has countered that making set-top content and data available to third parties is simply a way to create the navigation device competition Congress intended and that concerns that it threatens copyright or advertising business models or privacy is misplaced, though he has said he is open to changes to improve or strengthen the item.

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