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Unauthorised Retransmission of Live TV Online Breaches Copyright

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has recently ruled that streaming unauthorised live TV is a breach of copyright. In ITV Broadcasting Ltd and Others v TVCatchup Ltd [2013], the ECJ took the side of broadcasters in their battle with websites that stream their channels live on the internet. The ECJ explained that “broadcasters are ‘authors’ who have an exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any communication of their work to the public”.

ITV Broadcasting Ltd and Others v TVCatchup Ltd [2013]

TVCatchup Ltd offers an internet television broadcasting service which allows its users to receive live streams of free television. The company seeks to ensure that those who are watching are legally entitled to do so by checking that users are in the United Kingdom and have a television license.

Several commercial broadcasters such as ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 brought legal proceedings against TVCatchup in the High Court. The High Court referred the case to the ECJ and asked whether the unauthorised retransmission of live broadcasting was a breach of EU copyright law.

TVCatchup rejected claims of breach of copyright and explained that they only provide a technical means for those with UK TV licenses to watch those channels, which they are legally entitled to watch live, on their computers or other devices.

ECJ Ruling

In making its ruling, the ECJ stated that the retransmission of unauthorised live TV online falls within the meaning of ‘communication to the public’ found in Article 3(1) Directive 2001/29/E. This directive deals with the harmonisation of copyrights through the European Union; in particular, addressing the issue of copyright protection on the internet and cable and satellite broadcasts.

Accordingly, because retransmissions of TV programmes falls within the Directive, websites that stream TV programmes must now gain authorisation from the broadcasters or they will be in breach of copyright.

In its judgement the ECJ said “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”. In making this ruling, the Court aimed to protect authors’ rights but limit those rights in pursuit of the single market by outlawing exclusive national licensing. The decision also balances the rights of the owners with those of the users.


Following this judgement, it is expected that TVCatchup will have to pay significant damages. Despite this, the company has claimed that the removal of these few channels will only affect around 30 per cent of its 12 million viewers and has emphasised that they will “remain Europe’s first and only legal internet cable service”. It is thought that this ruling will affect many other re-streaming sites throughout Europe.

If you need assistance to ensure your website policies and procedures are regulation compliant or would like further information regarding the implications of this case, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.