The Carter administration proposed a major copyright law provision yesterday that would change the cable television industry dramatically.
The proposal before the FCC and Congress would force cable systems to obtain retransmission consent of the originating station for all non-network programming. Each originating station would then be required to obtain the consent of the program's copyright holders after bargaining for the right to program.
The National Cable Television Association, an industry trade group, sharply criticized the proposal and its author, Henry Geller, head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunication and Information Administration.
The NCTA called the proposal "the resurrection of an idea Henry Geller had when he was FCC general counsel (that) failed in 1968," and added that it "seems to be inconsistent with the deregulation philosophy that is being sold throughout the administration."
Under existing regulation, "superstations" -- local television stations that are retransmitted widely by cable outlets around the country, like Ted Turner's WTCG-TV, Channel 17 in Atlanta -- must pay royalties on programs purchased without regard to the number of cable systems that receive the programming. The station only pays for the rights to retransmis in its own area.
But in recent months, several stations, including WTCG, have begun to market advertising time on the basis of large cable audiences around the country, essentially charging national advertising rates, even though they only have to pay local rates for programming.
Geller's proposal addresses a concern cnuneiated by Paramount executive Richard Frank at a communications conference in Los Angeles earlier this month.
Discussing the growth of "superstations," Frank complained that the retransmission of theatrical programs "presents producers, distributors and creators with some giant problems in protecting out rights.
"Piracy is the most graphic description of what takes place," he said. "When a program purchased for exclusive use in Atlanta is beamed to hundreds of cities around the nation with insignificant copyright payments, the producers rights are violated.
"How different is this from a modern-day Bluebeard?" he asked.
But the NCTA said through a spokesman that a 1970 experiment involving retransmission rights showed that "nobody wanted to sell them."
"There is an ongoing FCC proceeding on this matter," the spokesman said, "and all of a sudden the admintration comes up with an old and disproved proposal that is inconsistent with the facts."