The WGA West has broken ranks with Hollywood’s other major unions over FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed compromise on new set-top box rules. The DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the Musicians Union are all opposed to the proposed rule, which would require cable companies to make apps available to customers so that they can watch shows without having to rent cable set-top boxes.

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In a letter sent today to the chairmen of the House and Senate Select Committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the WGA West said it supports Wheeler’s apps-based compromise “because it gives consumers real choice in the device used to access to MVPD programming and promotes content competition. At the same time, it will protect copyright and the programming available to consumers through MVPD.”

Multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) are the service providers that deliver cable television, such as Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network.

The other unions — a coalition including the MPAA and the RIAA — issued a statement earlier today reiterating their opposition to the compromise.

“The creative community, with near unanimity, has made clear from the start that we support competition in the set-top box market,” they said. “We do not profit from set-top box fees and welcome new distribution opportunities for our creative content. But it cannot come at the expense of the millions of Americans who make a living in the film, television, and music industries.”

The proposed compromise would require a licensing agreement between the cable companies and the apps manufacturers, subject to FCC oversight. The WGA West said the oversight “is critical to the success of the proposal because the MVPDs will have control over the operation and functionality of the apps.”


Other unions and the MPAA, however, said such oversight creates “an unacceptable and unworkable de facto compulsory licensing regime that requires creators to allow their work to be shared across multiple platforms without compensation and without regard to the creators’ rights to exclusively control their distribution. That’s authority the FCC does not have.”

WGA West, however, said the FCC is well within its rights to set rules that ensure that the MVPDs “cannot use such licenses as a means to disadvantage independent programmers, favor MVPD programming over online video in search results, or prevent devices from providing access to content outside the MVPD app.”

The MPAA and other unions argue that Wheeler’s proposal will diminish creators’ rights under the Copyright Act and force “one-size-fits-all licensing terms on an industry that is as varied and diverse as the movies, music and shows we make.”