THE EUROPEAN UNION’S top court is today hearing arguments in a case which could have an impact on the provision of some online TV streaming services throughout the EU.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is hearing a matter referred to it by the High Court in London, in a case brought by Britain’s commercial broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 against the popular TV streaming website TVCatchup.
That website offers live streams of 50 free-to-air British channels, and is accessible to users who sign up for a free account – essentially offering a competing live stream to those offered by the broadcasters themselves.
However, the website also includes its own advertisements alongside those which are carried on the original broadcast – prompting claims from the TV companies that the website is making money by carrying their content.
They also argue that the website’s service is an act of ‘communicating broadcasts with the public’ – a service which is restricted under the EU’s 2001 directive on copyright in the information society.
TVCatchup argues, however, that because its streams are only available to users in the UK – where users holding TV licences would be able to watch the streams anyway – it merely offers another platform for users to view content they are already entitled to see.
The High Court in London, which has already rejected related complaints of copyright infringement from the broadcasters, has asked the ECJ to decide whether a “communication to the public” of copyrighted material includes a system like TVCatchup’s where users are already entitled to receive a broadcast.
The High Court has also asked for guidance on whether TVCatchup’s advertisements – and the fact that it therefore acts in direct competition with the original broadcaster – should have an impact on its consideration of the case.
The Court in London has already dismissed challenges against TVCatchup’s streams of the major UK free-to-air channels, though the distribution of a smaller number of minority channels (including time-shifted ‘+1′ channels) is at stake in the European court’s ruling.