TVCatchup under threat? European court rules against retransmission sites

08/03/2013

Web and mobile app TVCatchup suffered a setback this week, after the European Court of Justice ruled that broadcasters can block Internet platforms from streaming their output on the web.

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Following the ruling, TVCatchup insisted that it is "here to stay" and hopes to be recognised as a legitimate TV service.

Judges at the Luxembourg-based court were ruling on a case that pitted Britain's commercial ITV network against Internet distributor TV Catchup, which offers live streaming of programming free to online viewers.

TVC said its subscribers in Britain could only access ITV content if they had paid their license fee, a public broadcasting tax that funds the BBC but is also required for reception of the main commercial stations.

But the court said that transmission of broadcast material "must, in principle, be individually authorised by the author," or rights owner.

Major live-broadcast events such as football matches or high-impact reality TV shows are usually available online via a host of streaming outlets. It remains to be seen to what extent this ruling will prevent the continuation of that practice.

After the case was escalated to the ECJ, the court said this week: "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. That retransmission constitutes, under certain conditions, a 'communication to the public' of works which must be authorised by their authors."

The court judged that because TVCatchup delivers programmes using a "specific technical means different from that of the original communication", it therefore needs to get prior approval from the original authors.

It also said that because TVCatchup (and other similar services) offer programmes to anyone in the UK with a TV licence, the content is expected to reach "a large number of people".

"The court accordingly finds that, when a given work is put to multiple use, each transmission or retransmission of that work using a specific technical means must, as a rule, be individually authorised by its author," said the court.

However, TVCatchup said in a statement that the ECJ ruling "does not affect" the majority of TV content of its service, and so the decision is viewed as "inconsequential".

"Barely 30% of our users view such content [as covered in the ECJ ruling]," said TVCatchup's director Bruce Pilley. "This would be more than compensated for by the addition of those many channels who have asked to join us."

TVCatchup is currently attempting to convince the UK's High Court that it qualifies as a legitimate TV service.

It said that "regardless of the outcome of the European Court of Justice" it will still argue at the High Court that the public service broadcaster (PSB) licences granted to ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 should allow TVCatchup to rebroadcast those channels' programmes.

"If these PSB broadcasters argue that their channels do not form part of the qualifying cable services that TVCatchup is allowed to rebroadcast, then their inclusion in pay access platforms such as Virgin Media and BT Vision would be in direct contravention of their PSB obligations," said TVCatchup.

"Thus, whatever the outcome of the ECJ, TVCatchup has already emerged as the clear victor from years of legal wrangling, and has established itself as the de facto online broadcast platform for web, tablet, mobile and numerous other applications."

Pilley added: "TVC is here to stay; 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 channels we carry."

Read TVCatchup's statement here

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