Frequently asked questions

Let’s go back in time to 1976. The cable networks that will flourish in the future – A&E, Discovery – don’t exist. The cable industry is young and struggling and hungry for programming to push through the pipeline to their subscribers. Technology gives systems the ability to snatch distant signals from the air but how do they get permission to do so? Getting in touch with the copyright owner of each individual production is perceived to be a daunting and expensive task. American legislators provide the solution through the Copyright Revision Act, which establishes a compulsory license permitting retransmission under certain conditions. As long as cable systems comply with the terms of the license, including the payment of royalties, they can legally retransmit broadcast signals without asking the permission of the copyright owners.

It is a broadcast station retransmitted outside of its local service area. Stations typically serve a specific market and community. If they are retransmitted by a cable system within their target area, they are considered “local” signals. A station that is retransmitted by a cable system that is outside the station’s local service area is considered a “distant” signal to that system. The definition of “local service area” can be found in § 111 (f) of the Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code, available here (see page 39).

The U.S. Copyright Office is a division of the Library of Congress – the oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S. that also serves as the research arm of Congress. The U.S. Copyright Office is an office of public record for copyright registration and deposit of copyright material.

The Copyright Royalty Board is an agency of the Library of Congress, with respect to the administration of statutory copyright licenses, including cable retransmission. It was established following passage of the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act of 2004 on November 30, 2004. The Act phased out the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (“CARP”) system and replaced the arbitrators with three permanent Copyright Royalty Judges.

The short answer is because copyright laws in many countries, including the United States, require them to do so. The rationale is that a cable system that retransmits a distant signal benefits from doing this. The programs on that distant signal expand and enrich the selection of programming that the cable system delivers to its paying subscribers. The other side of the coin is that the copyright owners of the programs deserve compensation for use of their works.

Rates are based on the size of the cable systems, measured by their gross receipts from the retransmission of television and radio broadcasts. Systems are commonly referred to by the actual form, known as Statements of Account (SOA) that they must complete and send to the U.S. Copyright Office twice a year, documenting the stations that they retransmit. The smaller systems are called Form 1-2 Systems. The larger systems (those with higher gross receipts) are called Form 3 Systems. Form 3 Systems contribute the bulk of total royalties paid to the U.S. Copyright Office. There is a formula that cable systems follow that calculates how much they must pay. You can see it in the SOA here.

To be eligible to collect royalties for any particular year, copyright owners must file a claim with the U.S. Copyright Office in July. To keep costs down and make the process simple and quick, various copyright groups (similar to collectives) formed in response to the Copyright Revision Act. These groups generally represent producers, distributors, or broadcasters who own the copyright to similar types of programs, e.g. Sports. There are eight copyright groups. They are referred to as:

  • Program Suppliers
  • Public Television
  • Music
  • Canadian Claimants
  • Joint Sports
  • Commercial TV
  • Devotional
  • National Public Radio

These groups receive lump sum payments from the U.S. Copyright Office and then re-allocate the money to their individual members, based on their own methodology. These are also the groups that can, on behalf of their members, say that they agree, or disagree, with distribution to themselves and each other based on percentages previously established. If they don’t agree a controversy is declared that sets in motion a process that will likely end in a hearing before Copyright Royalty Judges. The Judges listen to evidence presented by the claimant groups and then decide how much to allocate to each group.

For Canadians a significant element in the American copyright legislation was the creation of a compulsory zone. The zone's definition states that U.S. cable systems that are north of the 42nd parallel (the top of California), or 150 miles south of the Canada/U.S. border, (whichever is further south) can pick-up and simultaneously re-transmit Canadian broadcast signals. They have to pay fees as required by the compulsory license, but do not need the Canadian broadcasters' permission.

The Canadian Claimants Group claims a share of the cable retransmission royalties paid by American cable systems for the distant retransmission of distant free-over-the-air Canadian broadcast signals in the northern United States.

The Canadian Claimants are an ad hoc group of broadcasters, producers, distributors/syndicators and third party representatives who own or otherwise control the rights for all programs broadcast on Canadian television stations except for live telecasts of Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, U.S. college team sports, and programs owned by U.S. copyright owners.

In the late 1970s when the copyright legislation was rolling out, CBC was first on the scene, staking a claim for its retransmitted programming. It assumed a leadership role that continues to this day, looking out for the interests of all the copyright owners whose works are on the Canadian distant signals. CBC administers all matters relating to the CCG.

The amounts, expressed as a percentage of the total royalties paid, can vary every year. The initial allocation to the Canadian Claimants was .75% of the Basic Fund. Following a hearing for the years 2010 to 2013 to determine the share for the Canadians, we were awarded the following allocations of the Basic Fund:

  • 2010 – 5.0%
  • 2011 – 5.0%
  • 2012 – 5.0%
  • 2013 – 5.5%

To share in the royalties paid to the Canadian Claimants, the person or company must be the copyright owner, or authorized representative of the copyright owner, and the following must also be true:

  • one or more of a copyright owner’s productions must have been broadcast on one of the Canadian stations that was retransmitted by a Form 3 cable system in the U.S. that received it as a distant signal;
  • the copyright owner must have filed a timely claim with the U.S. Copyright Office – either a single claim or a joint claim.

Claims must be submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office during July of the year following the year of the retransmission. For example, that means in July of 2016 claims should be made for programs that were broadcast in 2015. The simplest method to make a claim is by electronic filing through online forms accessible only in July on the Copyright Royalty Board website.

There are two claim forms. One is for a “single” claim. The other is for a “joint” claim. The CCG submits a joint claim on behalf of all the copyright owners that authorize the addition of their name to the claim. In June, CCG administrators contact potential claimants, inviting them to join in.

If your productions were broadcast on American free-over- the-air TV stations, you are strongly encouraged to also file a single claim. Broadcasts on PBS, Fox and numerous independent stations may entitle you to share in the royalties paid to claimant groups administered in the United States.

Filing a single claim for programs broadcast on American stations will maximize your royalties from the American copyright groups. Programs licensed to ABC, NBC, CBS and cable networks do not generate royalties. If you choose to file a claim, you must use the online or printable cable forms available on the Copyright Royalty Board website.

  • Remember, if you do file a single claim, please send a copy to the CCG. You may also choose to send a copy to administrators of other claimants group.

It’s very easy. You can send us an e-mail or call us. Once we ensure that you are eligible to join, we will send you a Standing Agreement and let you know about all other documents we will need from you.

None at all. The CCG functions as a non-profit organization. There is no out-of-pocket expense to individual Canadian claimants because all costs are paid out of funds received before any distribution is made.

A third party representative is an individual, organization or collecting society who has been authorized by a rights holder to file a royalty claim on their behalf. In the context of U.S. Cable Retransmission Royalties, third party representatives file Joint Claims with the Copyright Royalty Board on behalf of rights holders.

No. There are several copyright collectives in Canada that have been created specifically for this purpose. Each of them represents a different collection of copyright owners. You can find a description of each collective under the Retransmission heading on the Copyright Board of Canada here.

No they don’t. Only free-over-the-air broadcast stations generate royalties.

No, they are not. The CCG royalty award does not include compensation for retransmission of American productions that are broadcast by Canadian stations.

The CCG normally distributes royalties once a year. Copyright owners who have eligible claims every year will eventually receive a cheque annually. There can be a considerable lag time between the first claim and the first cheque. This is because, before the Copyright Royalty Judges release the money, they need to find out whether or not the various claimant groups agree on how the collected royalties should be allocated – what percentage each group should receive. If the claimant groups cannot agree, then a controversy is declared and a hearing is convened. At the hearing, each claimant group is given the opportunity to offer their views of how the royalties should be split. This process takes considerable time. In fact, it is often years before a controversy is settled due to a tendency for decisions to be appealed. In the interim, the Copyright Royalty Judges usually advance a portion of the royalties to the claimant groups. In turn the CCG typically releases some of the advance to its members but when and how much is influenced by factors such as the total royalties available for distribution and the imminence of a hearing.

There is a separate compulsory license that governs retransmission of broadcast signals by satellite carriers. The legislation precludes satellite retransmission of Canadian broadcast signals so the CCG cannot act on behalf of Canadian producers in this regime. However, Canadians may have valid claims to satellite royalties if they have licensed their productions to any of the American stations that are retransmitted. CCG can advise you whom to contact about this.