Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Broadcast Review and Copyright

The recently published review of Canadian broadcasting policy by Laurence Dunbar and Christian Leblanc makes a number of recommendations with regard to copyright and Canadian broadcasting.
First, the report provides a primer on the main areas in which CRTC policy intersects with copyright policy.
  • Signal substitution. The first copyright-related area of broadcasting policy is signal substitution. Here, the CRTC acts "to protect programming rights" through simultaneous substitution, wherein cable companies substitute Canadian signals over simultaneous American broadcasts of the same programming. This protects "the value of the local rights to television programming acquired by over-the-air broadcasters," allowing Canadian broadcasters to have a monopoly on the advertising market for that program. (p. 59-60)
  • Retransmission. The second copyright-related area of broadcasting policy is retransmission. Here, the Copyright Act gives cable companies a statutory right to retransmit local and distant signals. In the case of distant signals, they must pay royalties set by the Copyright Board. This statutory license was argued to apply equally to Internet broadcasters like JumpTV and ICraveTV, but legislation passed in 2002 restricted the statutory license to offline broadcasters only. A public consultation by the CRTC led it to conclude that no change was necessary to CRTC policy with regard to this issue.
  • CRTC regulations referred to by the Copyright Board. The report notes that some CRTC regulations are referred to by the Copyright Board in setting royalty rates, and that changes to those regulations can affect the royalty rates paid by broadcasters. CRTC regulatory changes can therefore require copyright collectives to update their royalty regimes to compensate for CRTC regulatory changes that would adversely affect broadcasters' royalty payments. Delays by copyright collectives in doing so can, in turn, delay CRTC regulatory changes. (p. 65-68)
  • Concerns about competition from copyright-infringing Internet content. The report makes note that copyright-infringing content on the Internet may be cutting into broadcasters' audiences. (pp. 75, 243) "Other than copyright laws," the report observes, "there are no protections currently in place to shield Canadian broadcasters from the effects of Internet-based programming." (p. 76) However, the CRTC has seen that, in radio at least, broadcasters remain fiscally healthy despite the challenges of new media and online competition. (p. 21)
Second, the report makes several recommendations:
  • The report recommends that the CRTC become involved in a multi-disciplinary committee to address policy areas that fall outside the CRTC's mandate, such as copyright policy. (p. 28, recommendation 4-5) In general, the report argues that "there is a case for the Commission paying closer attention to issues relating to copyright and copyright policy when it is exercising its authority to regulate the broadcasting system, and for the Commission to coordinate its efforts with those government bodies that are responsible for copyright where there is an overlap between broadcasting regulation and copyright policy or enforcement as it relates to broadcast undertakings." (p. 59)
  • The report recommends reevaluation of the simultaneous substitution policy in light of its effects on the scheduling of Canadian programming. (p. 50, recommendation 6-3)
  • The report recommends that the CRTC's exemption for New Media should be reassessed: "Many of the observations made by the Commission regarding New Media and Internet
    retransmission in 1999 and 2001 about the nature of the Internet are no longer valid
    and need to be re-assessed." (p. 68) However, such a reassessment should not go too far: now that geo-blocking can be effectively carried out (Internet sites can effectively control which geographical regions can view them), concerns that Internet broadcasting could undermine territorial licensing of broadcasts are no longer justified, and companies like JumpTV need not break the boundaries of territorial markets. Although these companies do not presently benefit from the statutory license under the Copyright Act, they are able to set up private licensing arrangements with rights holders, and the CRTC New Media exemption means that they do not conflict with CRTC regulations. This is, the report recommends, the way it should be: "We recommend that, to the extent that private licensing agreements among producers, distributors, and broadcasters continue to find ways to provide new business models and new platforms from which Internet users can access programming, the Commission be wary of interfering in this nascent market by attempting to introduce regulatory measures that could disrupt existing and developing business models." (p. 59-68, recommendation 8-1)
  • The Report recommends a new national policy for electronic media, dealing with a variety of policy areas, including copyright: "Canada is in need of a national policy for electronic media, and needs to have available all of the tools of government to give effect to it. This
    likely includes copyright, fiscal measures, and new programs to incent Canadian participation in new media ventures. While it is beyond the jurisdiction of the CRTC to implement this national policy on its own, we urge the Commission to consult with other Governmental agencies and departments to begin such a process." (p. 78, recommendation 9-1)

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