The Law Practice of Christopher Schiller
Contact: chris@christopherschiller.com -- cell/L.A. 213.804.5905 -- phone/NY 518.489.1691

Areas of Practice - Media and Telecommunications Law

Definitions

A somewhat arbitrary definition for Media Law can be expressed as laws that affect the business of television, radio, satellite and cable communication as well as newspapers and periodical publications. Telecommunications Law can be encapsulated with a definition that somewhat crosses over said Media Law and includes telephone, both land line and cell phone, and computer or other technological communications over distance (e.g. the Internet.) Of course these definitions are as inexact as necessity dictates. And the laws that apply to these areas can be broadly or narrowly focused as well.

A conceptual understanding of the topics that could be covered under these umbrella terms might better be found by looking to the roots of the words used. Media, in our modern society, is often a catch phrase that is used to refer to any attempt of communication from one-to-many, "broad"-casting in a pure sense. Telecommunication is literally broken down as communication over distance. This would include any forms of communication that are transmitted, be it one-to-one (phones,) one-to-many (broadcasting) or many to many (Internet.)

Whichever definition you chose to accept for these concepts leads to a vast selection of potentially applicable laws that could come into play when dealing with the specifics of a particular application.

Example Television Broadcasting

Broadcasting has many specific laws which govern the use of the public airwaves. The bases for these laws come out of the very limited spectrum resources used in the technical process of broadcasting. This is the reason the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been given the powers it has by Congress to regulate broadcasters use of this limited resource.

But the FCC is limited in the extent of who it can regulate and what can be regulated. A "broadcaster" is an entity that has a federally granted license to transmit over a specific over-the-air frequency. Because this licensing process grants the broadcaster use of a portion of the public spectrum, the Federal government has considerable say in how the spectrum can be used. But the regulations are still limited by the First Amendment and the licensee-licensor relationship.

For example, the familiar networks we know intimately are actually unreachable by direct FCC regulation. A television network can produce whatever programming it wishes, in theory. The FCC's power only extends to regulating the broadcaster who may transmit that programming. So in the case of events like the Superbowl's wardrobe malfunction of a few years ago the network who controlled the production could not be directly affected by the FCC's sanctions. If that network did not, as subsidiary entities, own any broadcast stations itself then the FCC would have no way of controlling the network's output. It is only because that network and most other broadcast networks, aside from producing product to air, also own a limited number of broadcast stations that do come under FCC jurisdiction, that the imposition of sanctions can take hold and control the network's product.

And the FCC's rules for controlling indecency are restricted themselves by First Amendment concerns leading to time and place restrictions. The Supreme Court has mandated that the FCC's controls over indecent broadcasts cannot extend throughout the 24 hour broadcast day. Any broadcaster is free to transmit material that might otherwise be deemed indecent between the hours of 10pm and 6am every day without fear of FCC sanctions. The fact that few broadcasters attempt this is testament to the power of the advertisers' control over broadcasting content more so than the government's regulations.

And the government loses the limited public spectrum basis for regulation when considering cable television regulation because of the technical differences in transmission. So any regulation of cable content starts from much weaker legal grounds.

Legal Status

There are many similar intricacies applicable to all the other forms of communication covered under the auspices of Media and Telecommunication Law. Each field has specific legal parameters and considerations unique to its pursuits which require a true, studied approach to the specific nature of each instance. A thorough understanding of the applicable law and policy dynamics involved in each branch of this area of concentration is essential to formulating a proper approach to staying legally valid in those pursuits.

My Interests

Whether it be from the producer's end looking to distribution media potentialities or the broadcaster's perspective, understanding the intricacies and liabilities involved in their particular chosen communication medium or the conduit concerns of an Internet service provider worried about the application of potential or actual legal rights violation disputes between their customers and rights holders, I am intent understanding all the intricacies involved in following the legal threads of the situation. My technical background usually allows me to get immediately passed the mechanics of the issues and truly understand the heart of the legal concerns. The First Amendment concerns that permeate these areas of law greatly enhance my interests, since the Freedom of Speech is one of the tenets of law that attracted me to practice in the first place.