February 11, 1999 U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Librarian on Satellite Fees

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On January 29, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a judgment (No. 97-1659) upholding the decision of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a lawsuit brought against the Librarian by the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association (SBCA). Under the U. S. Copyright Law, the Librarian of Congress reviews and adopts or rejects determinations of the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP). The lawsuit sought to overturn the Librarian's adoption of the CARP's determination that raised the royalty rates for superstation and network signals under the satellite carrier compulsory license, 17 U.S.C. 119.

The three-paragraph judgment noted that, by law, the Librarian must adopt the recommendation of the CARP unless he "finds that the determination is arbitrary or contrary" to the provisions of Title 17, 17 U.S.C. sec. 802 (f) and that the court, in turn, may set aside the order of the Librarian only if it finds that the Librarian "acted in an arbitrary manner" in adopting the recommendation of the CARP.

The court held that "Neither the CARP's determination nor the Librarian's adoption of it was arbitrary."

The SBCA sought to overturn a decision that changed the rate satellite carriers have to pay to carry nonlocal broadcast TV programming on their systems to 27 cents per subscriber per month for network and for each superstation signal and to zero for the retransmission of local superstations. Previously the rates had been 6 cents for network signals, 17.5 cents for superstations subject to FCC syndicated exclusivity rules and 14 cents for superstations not subject to these rules.

The Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel had recommended the change in rates to reflect the "fair market value" of the programming, as required in accordance with a 1994 amendment to the law.

The copyright system has been a part of the Library of Congress since 1870. In addition to administering the copyright law, the U.S. Copyright Office creates and maintains the public record of copyright registrations and recorded documents, provides technical assistance and policy advice on copyright issues to Congress and executive branch agencies, offers information to the general public, and obtains deposits for the collections of the Library of Congress.


PR 99-020
ISSN 0731-3527