The way we consume media today is vastly different from the way media was consumed in 1976, when the Copyright Act created the compulsory license for cable systems. The compulsory license allowed cable systems, as defined by the Copyright Act, to pay a set fee for the right to air television programming rather than working out individual deals with each group that owned the copyright in the programming, and helped make television more widely accessible to the viewing public. FilmOn, a company that uses a mini-antenna system to capture and retransmit broadcast network signals, is now seeking access to the compulsory license. In three concurrent legal cases in New York, California, and D.C., FilmOn argues that it meets the statutory requirements to classify as a cable system. This Issue Brief examines the legal history of cable systems and considers the effects of agency influence, policy concerns, and the lack of judicial or congressional resolution regarding FilmOn’s contested legal status.
Kathryn M. Boyd, What's in a Name: Cable Systems, FilmOn, and Judicial Consideration of the Applicability of the Copyright Act's Compulsory License to Online Broadcasters of Cable Content, 15 Duke Law & Technology Review 139-154 (2017)