Filling the Coffers: L&L Wins Decisive Victories in Copyright Royalty Disputes

For the past decade, L&L has been lead counsel for prominent religious ministries in a series of copyright royalty proceedings involving allocation among eight competing claimant groups of more than $3.5 billion of cable and satellite royalties. After more than ten years of litigation before the Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”) and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, claims covering payments for the right to retransmit television programming to cable and satellite subscribers are nearing conclusion and payout. In April and July 2020, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed two Final Distribution orders of the CRB affecting royalties for 1999-2013. The share of royalties of L&L clients grew dramatically — from 1% to over 5% — as a result of the litigation, principally at the expense of the professional sports leagues, major movie studios and commercial broadcast networks. Here are the relevant rulings: 1999-2009 CRB Determination and 2010-2013 CRB Determination and Order Denying Rehearing.

The cable compulsory license was created by copyright law reform in 1976 to “get cable moving” by eliminating the need for direct, complex negotiations to clear copyrighted programs in exchange for a royalty determined by copyright law. The compulsory license has been a huge success, spurring dramatic growth in subscribership by permitting carriage of independent programming before the era of scores of cable networks like HBO, Discovery and ESPN. With the advent of satellite carriers like DIRECTV and DISH, the statutory license was expanded to cover satellite services in the 1980s, leading to public acceptance of that nascent technology.

Arnie Lutzker has participated in every cable and satellite royalty proceeding dating back to 1978, representing not only religious ministries, but also scores of other television programmers. He has filed hundreds of individual claims for royalties and has participated in royalty and rate proceedings before the CRB and its predecessor agencies. As copyright law reform looks to address the challenges of content delivery in the 21st century, compulsory licensing is a critical tool in the legislative arsenal to encourage fair compensation of the creative community. Anyone looking to better understand the compulsory licensing systems in the United States and throughout the world can turn to L&L for guidance and support.

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