Cable Copyright Reports Going Digital – A Stakeholder Perspective

As Washington braced for another mega-snowstorm, I attended a meeting at the Copyright Office concerning ongoing plans to bring the semi-annual filings of Cable Statements of Account (SOA) into the digital age. Since 1978 thousands of cable systems have twice annually filed reports and paid fees in order to qualify for the compulsory license, which is spelled out in Section 111 of the Copyright Act. And since 1978 I have filed claims for owners of copyrighted programs, who are entitled to a share of the collected royalties. Between the cable and satellite compulsory systems, nearly $300 million is sent to the Copyright Office for distribution to copyright owners. Over the life of the compulsory systems, billions of dollars have been collected. As representative of the Devotional Claimants, the producers of religious programs, who are one of the eight main groups receiving a share of the royalties, I attended the Stakeholders Meeting. From the dawn of the compulsory system, these SOAs have been sent by mail or delivered in person to the Copyright Office, which makes them available for in-person review. All told, there are hundreds of thousands of these filings! In recent years, the clamor for electronic submissions has been increasing, both from the cable operators who would like to take advantage of the ease of e-filing, and the copyright owners, who want an efficient and prompt way to review and analyze the submissions that involve so much money. Agreeing with the demands, the Copyright Office initiated a process and is now moving actively to refine the effort that will make on-line submissions and access possible. To gain insight into the needs of the copyright owners, the Copyright Office held a working session on January 26, 2011 with Stakeholders that I attended on behalf of the Devotional Claimants. We discussed issues ranging from ensuring accuracy and responsibility, including the nettlesome question of obtaining legally valid digital signatures, to bulk filings by CATV multiple system operators, as well as what kinds of reports would be useful to generate, and what research (if any) needs to be secure and confidential. Implementation of the e-filing/on-line review process will require a number of rule changes by the Copyright Office, which itself must follow the requirements of the federal administrative law rulemaking process. Realistically, the changes are several filing cycles away, but when completed, one of the last bastions of a bygone age – the paper submission and hand review of SOAs – will fall to the digital revolution.