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Premier League to Block Internet Site Streaming Live Matches

By [Monday, June 24th, 2013]

Back in March 2013, Europe’s highest court issued a landmark ruling shutting down websites that stream live TV to the public, without a license or permission from broadcasters and rights holders.  See ITV v. TVCatchup.  For the first time, a European sports league is seeking to apply that ruling to sites that show live sport contests.

The U.K.’s Premier League is requesting a court order from the European Court of Justice that would force Internet Service Providers to effectively ban their customers from accessing a website that streams live football matches.  ISPs are unlikely to challenge the petition, solidifying the breadth of European Union copyright protection.  The court is expected to issue the order by the end of the month, just in time to preserve the value of the 2013-2016 TV rights deals the Premier League recently closed, estimated at 5.5 billion pounds.

The EU ruling is based on the WIPO treaty copyright principle that a “communication to the public” of copyrighted work requires permission from the author.  At issue in ITV v. TVCatchup was whether the Internet retransmission of free-to-air broadcasts was not a communication to the public, but only a technical means for the TV audience to see streamed programs that they were legally entitled to watch anyway.  The European court held the retransmission was a communication to the public because:

  1. TVCatchup used a specific technical means of transmission different from that of the original communication;
  2. TVCatchup’s intervention was not intended to maintain or improve the quality of the transmission by the original broadcaster; and
  3. The retransmission was aimed at an indeterminate number of potential recipients, implying a large or public audience.

Interestingly, the court’s decision disclaimed any reliance on the fact that  TVCatchup profits from selling advertising that brackets its retransmissions, thus directly competing with the original broadcaster for advertising revenues.

Meanwhile, the US approach to internet retransmission of broadcasts remains muddled.  For a comparative analysis of EU and US infringement rulings in this area, read here.