ITV has won a major court battle with streaming service TVCatchup.com, which has been offering its channels for free online.

Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster challenged TVCatchup.com in the European Court of Justice, backed by other UK broadcasters Channel 4 and Channel 5, whose programs were also being offered for free on the service.

TVCatchup.com had claimed that it was exempt from European Union copyright rules but the court ruled differently, stating that the site had to adhere to EU copyright rules that allow free transmission of public service channels via cable.

“We are delighted that the European Court has ruled that our channels should not be retransmitted online or on cable without our authorization,” said an ITV spokesperson. “This finding recognizes the vital importance of intellectual property protection in maximizing investment in original UK TV content and preventing free-riding.

“The government has already confirmed that the current UK law on retransmission is no longer relevant. We’ve long argued that the carriage of ITV’s main channel on cable and satellite platforms should be the same commercial negotiations as our non-public service channels.”

This victory may set the scene for yet another battle ITV is facing with Liberty Global’s Virgin Media. ITV is hoping to charge Virgin Media fees for retransmitting its main ITV channel on its cable network. At present, Virgin Media enjoys a copyright exemption from such fees under UK copyright law, but this looks set to be withdrawn after UK Parliament passes the Digital Economy Bill. Interestingly, Liberty Global has a 9.9% stake in ITV.

“Culture secretary Karen Bradley and digital minister Matthew Hancock have repeatedly told Parliament they do not want the public service television companies to force Virgin Media to charge free-to-air television viewers to watch ITV,” said a Virgin Media spokesperson.