Regulation

Copyright owners call in reinforcements

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With the debate over copyright reform heating up both in the U.S. and abroad, copyright owners have been filling out their lobbying ranks. On Tuesday (7/16) the Motion Picture Assn. of America named former Democratic House staffer Shanna Winters to the new post of senior VP of global policy and external affairs, reporting to Michael O’Leary, senior executive VP of global policy. Winters spent eight years on the Hill, most recently as the Democratic Chief Counsel for the Foreign Relations Committee. Before that she was staff director for the House Judiciary Subcommittee for Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

The MPAA has its hands full internationally these days, where it’s trying to hold the line against a global push to carve out greater exemptions to copyright, but has suffered some significant setbacks of late. Winters contacts at both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committee should come in handy as copyright reform has become a flashpoint in a growing number of trade negotiations.

Also on Tuesday, NBC Universal named former White House deputy counsel and deputy assistant to President Obama, Kimberley Harris, as its new executive VP and general counsel, where she will be responsible for coordinating NBC-U’s global regulatory and legislative agenda. Former general counsel Rick Cotton, who announced plans to step down in May, will become senior counselor to NBC-U on IP protection.

Kimberley-Harris

Harris

Given recent strains in Hollywood’s relations with the Obama Administration, including the MPAA’s needless dis of White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordination Victoria Espinel this week when it dismissed the new “best-practices” program adopted by online ad exchanges for combating online piracy as “not sufficient.” Espinel’s office helped coordinate the drafting of the program, which was announced on the White House web site.

Ironically, Espinel owes her job to Harris’ predecessor, Cotton, who spearheaded industry lobbying for the Pro-IP Act that created the office of IPEC in 2008. Presumably, Harris’ contacts in the West Wing will help smooth whatever feathers were ruffled there this week by the MPAA
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Old media falling out of favor at DOJ

Antitrust The U.S. Justice Department has opened a “wide-ranging antitrust investigation” into whether cable operators are illegally using bandwidth caps and other tactics to try to squash growing competition from online video services like Netflix, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.  Subsequent reporting by the Journal revealed the investigation also covers the satellite TV services Dish Network and DirecTV, and that the feds are also looking into whether pay-TV operators are using so-called most-favored nation clauses in carriage agreements with the networks to restrict the network’s ability to license their content to online, over-the-top distributors.

The investigation and the issues at stake, particularly the department’s apparent focus on most-favored nation agreements, carry distinct echoes of the lawsuit the Justice Department filed in April against Apple and several leading publishers over an alleged conspiracy to fix prices in the e-book market. As in the cable industry investigation, the e-book lawsuit charges Apple with using most-favored nation clauses in its agency licensing agreements with the publishers to ensure that neither Amazon nor any other e-book retailer gets a better deal than Apple got or can sell e-books at prices lower than Apple’s price. Read More »

Comcast’s Xbox loop hole?

Net Neutrality Here’s an interesting one: Comcast is getting ready to roll out its Xfinity On Demand app for the Xbox 360, giving Xfinity TV subscribers who also have an Xbox Live Gold subscription access to Comcast’s on-demand library of content through their Xbox console and through the Kinect interface if they also have the gesture-control add-on (h/t Ars Technica).

That content includes thousands of movies and tens of thousands of TV titles that Comcast currently makes available to subscribers on-demand across a wide range of platforms. Since the Xfinity for Xbox service requires users to have at least one TV in the house connected to a Comcast set-top box, the new Xbox app presumably will also include access to the new Netflix-like Xfinity Streamix subscription service Comcast recently introduced that lets Comcast Digital Video customers stream thousands of additional movies and TV shows on-demand through their TV set-top box.

Best of all, according to Comcast’s FAQ page on the new Xbox app, Xfinity content streamed through Xbox Live will not count toward subscriber’s 250 GB per month data cap, because the content “is being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet.” Read More »

Pay to play

Net Neutrality The Wall Street Journal generated some buzz this morning with its story about the rude awakening greeting owners of the new 4G-enabled iPad when they discover that all the streaming video they’re consuming on their speedy new tablets is crushing their monthly data allotments. A weekend’s worth of March Madness can easily chew up 3GB of data from AT&T or Verizon, leaving iPad owners with nothing for the rest of the month unless they’re willing to pay an additional $10 per gigabyte.

The Journal may have buried the lede a bit, though, at least as far as content owners are concerned. Three grafs from the bottom of a long piece the paper mentions that AT&T is “studying a plan to give app developers and content providers the option to pay for the mobile data their products use, thereby keeping those apps and videos from counting against a user’s allotment of data, kind of like an 800-number for apps.”

As the website MacRumors put it, the plan “would presumably allow bandwidth usage for certain apps to be free. For example, watching shows from a TV network app such as ABC Player might not count against your monthly bandwidth allotment. Instead, ABC would pay AT&T (or Verizon) for the mobile bandwidth consumed. In return, ABC would likely see increased usage of their app to watch shows and more revenue from in-show advertising.” Read More »

Who lost SOPA?

Legislation The blame-storming in Hollywood over the failure of SOPA and the Protect-IP Act has begun. MPAA chief Chris Dodd offers a half-hearted mea culpa in the New York Times, acknowledging a “perception problem” for the industry. But he pins most of the blame on “irresponsible” technology players like Wikipedia, Google and Reddit for stirring up the natives with their blackouts and black propaganda.

More darkly, many in the media industry are blaming President Barack Obama for the loss, accusing him of a stab in the back for siding publicly with Silicon Valley after Hollywood had raised millions for his campaigns. One time SOPA and PIPA supporters in Congress who went wobbly in the face of public pressure are also coming in for scorn.

Most of the problems the media companies have had over SOPA and PIPA, however, have been self-inflicted. Read More »