A court ruling stating online ‘rebroadcaster’ TVCatchup.com illegally transmitted live UK terrestrial TV channels represents a “significant” moment in European broadcasting history, a broadcast law expert has said.
Yesterday, Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, ruled UK-based TVCatchup Ltd has infringed ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5’s copyright by transmitting live feeds of their signals over the internet without permission.
Explaining the ruling, the ECJ said: “EU law seeks to establish a high level of protection for authors of works, allowing them to obtain an appropriate reward for the use of those works… Television broadcasters may prohibit the retransmission of their programmes by another company via the Internet.”
Tony Ballard, a broadcast lawyer and partner at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said the ruling could be highly significant in the future of European retransmission broadcasting.
“For years, nobody has known whether the unauthorised retransmission of live TV on the internet infringes copyright. The court today has decided that it does,” he said.
Ballard suggested the ruling was “one in an increasingly long line of decisions by which the court appears to be laying the foundations for a new European legal order in copyright and other forms of intellectual property.”
ITV spearheaded the case against TVC, which offers live streams of UK TV channels to an estimated 12 million viewers.
An ITV spokesman said: “ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 welcome the judgment by the European Court of Justice. The judgment makes it clear that, subject to some limited defences, broadcasters and content producers should be able to prevent unauthorised streaming of free-to-air channels.
“We now look forward to the UK court’s implementation of this judgment. We reserve the right to pursue any site or service we believe to be infringing our copyright or using our content in an unlicensed, illegal capacity.”
TVCatchup claimed the ruling related to a technicality that a “new public” could access the signals without the UK television licence the company’s requires users to own and did not affect the “majority of content” on the site.
“Barely 30% of our users view such content, said TVCatchup’s director, Bruce Pilley. “This would be more than compensated for by the addition of those many channels that have asked to join us.”
He added the service was in “advanced negotiations with many major content providers”.
Despite the ECJ ruling, the matter must now go to the UK High Court, where TVCatchup will allege that the channels are violating their public service remits by arguing they do not form part of the services TVCatchup is currently allowed to rebroadcast.
“TVC is here to stay,” said Pilley. “We are not thinly disguised purveyors of filth; we remain Europe’s first and only legal internet cable service and the ECJ opinion affects only a handful of the channels we carry.”