European court bans websites that retransmit TV broadcasts

Europe’s highest court has come down on the side of broadcasters in their long-standing battle with websites that retransmit their channels over the Internet without their permission.

The case was brought by UK broadcasters including ITV against the website TVCatchup, which offers live streaming of the broadcasters’ free-to-air channels, and sells adverts on the webpage which delivers those streams.

Quoting a 2001 EU law which states that broadcasters are held to be “authors” who have an exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any communication of their work to the public, the European Court of Justice said in a statement: “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.”

Commenting on the ruling, Tony Ballard, a broadcast lawyer and partner at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said the ruling was highly significant. “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.

“Where a service provider goes beyond merely maintaining or improving the quality of reception of the original transmission and retransmits it by a different technical means to the general public, a licence from the broadcaster or other rights holder is required.”

Ballard adds that this decision suggests the EU may be “laying the foundations for a new European legal order in copyright and other forms of intellectual property”.

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