According to the Copyright Tribunal – 22.5c per subscriber per month is what it is worth. That is how much Pay TV channels will soon be ordered to pay copyright owners (through their collection vehicle, Screenrights) for the privilege of retransmitting free to air channels to their subscribers. The decision, handed down 3 May, has already been reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and in the Australian.

The flavour of the story in the media has been interesting – the Australian pitches it as ‘nothing comes free’ for Pay TV; the SMH is even more blunt. Under the headline ‘Pay TV hit with copyright fee’ it comments that:

”PAY TV operators, including Foxtel, Optus Vision and Austar, will now have to fork out $3.5 million a year for retransmitting the five free-to-air channels on their platforms’

But there’s a little more to it than that. As the SMH notes, Screenrights had initially asked for $10 per subscriber, per month. Screenrights in their final submissions argued that an amount of $2.50 per subscriber per month was ‘conservative’. And as the Australian also notes that ‘The pay-TV networks, including Foxtel, Optus and the regional network Austar, argued they should pay no more than 20c per subscriber per month.’

Hmmm: so Screenrights thought $2.50 was conservative; the upper bound of the Pay TV people was 20c. The result was 22.5c – a smidgeon above what the Pay TV people had argued (admittedly, the Pay TV people were arguing that the ‘lower bound was zero’, based on past arrangements). While Screenrights has ‘welcomed‘ the decision, my guess would be that they would view this as a pretty low fee.

A quick look at the decision confirms the intuition that Screenrights aren’t likely to be all that happy: largely because the main basis for their case – a contingent valuation survey in which consumers were asked how much additional they would pay for having Free to Air television retransmitted – was accorded no weight by the Tribunal.

Oh, and spare a thought, by the way, for the film directors in all of this. When, with some fanfare, directors’ copyright was introduced last year, the only right film directors actually got was a right to a share of income from retransmission of their material. So, the only thing directors got was a cut from the $3.5 million or so that this Tribunal decision will actually generate. Oh, and that is assuming that their rights haven’t been contracted away…. well, at least they aren’t getting a cut of the lower bound of the Pay TV people’s proposed license fee – zero!