U.S. broadcasters still want the courts to pull the plug on Aereo, the streaming service that they say violates their copyrights. In a similar fight in the UK, broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 today won a victory over TVCatchup.com, a service that streams free-to-air shows from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky. In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice said websites that retransmit live TV without permission from the broadcasters are in breach of copyright. The case was spurred by an earlier one brought in London which sought the higher court’s take in 2011. The broadcasters in question alleged, among other things, that TVC’s retransmissions constitute a ‘communication to the public’ which is prohibited both by national law and by an EU Directive. The ECJ today agreed (read the ruling here).
In a statement, the ECJ said today, “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 including on the occasion of communication to the public. To that end, authors have an exclusive right to authorize or prohibit any communication of their works to the public.” Under a 2001 law, original broadcasters are “authors” of their programming.
Contrary to Aereo which streams broadcasters’ over-the-air signals to subscribers who typically pay $8 a month, TVCatchup.com is funded by pre-roll advertising. It can only be accessed by customers with a valid British TV license (an annual fee that helps fund the BBC) and who are within a zone where they would also be able to watch programs on TV if they so chose.
The litigants reserved their right to pursue any service they believe is infringing on their rights, but TVC was undeterred. The company said today that “many channels” have asked to join its service and that it is in advanced negotiations with “many major content providers.” It called the claims the “vexatious action of a handful of broadcasters.” Company director Bruce Pilley concluded, “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.”
Tony Ballard, of law firm Harbottle & Lewis, told The Guardian the ECJ ruling “is 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.”