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EU court: Retransmitting free TV programmes infringes copyright


The Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that a service provided by UK company TVCatchup infringes copyright because it falls within the definition of a “communication to the public”

TVCatchup streams terrestrial TV channels over the internet, checking that the viewer has a TV licence and is therefore legally allowed to watch those channels.

It was sued by several British commercial broadcasters in the UK High Court, which referred one question on EU law to the Court of Justice: does the service qualify as a “communication to the public” under the Copyright Directive


The Court answered the question in two parts – whether the service was a communication and whether it was to a public, as defined.

As the TVCatchup service used “a specific technical means different from that of the original communication” it qualified as a communication. And the Court pointed out that each transmission or retransmission would require authorisation from the broadcast’s author.

The TVCatchup audience also counted as a public, as the target audience was large – everyone in the UK with a TV licence and an internet connection. It also pointed out that the calculation was cumulative, adding up all the people reached over the lifetime of the service.

In conclusion, the Court said that:

“The concept of ‘communication to the public’, within the meaning of Directive 2001/29, must be interpreted as covering a retransmission of the works included in a terrestrial television broadcast, where the retransmission is made by an organisation other than the original broadcaster, by means of an internet stream made available to the subscribers of that other organisation who may receive that retransmission by logging on to its server, even though those subscribers are within the area of reception of that terrestrial television broadcast and may lawfully receive the broadcast on a television receiver.”

TVCatchup responded by saying it would continue to fight the case at the High Court, arguing that such a ruling would also prevent services such as Virgin Media and BT Vision from transmitting terrestrial channels.

Those channels also only make up around 30% of the TVCatchup service, with the rest comprising digital channels that use TVCatchup as a means of streaming online.

The full ruling can be seen here.

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