March 7, 2013 8:19 pm

ITV wins EU battle against TV Catchup

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Websites that retransmit live television without permission from copyright holders are breaking the law, Europe’s highest court has ruled.

The landmark judgment gives ITV and other UK broadcasters the legal backing to block TV Catchup, a popular streaming website, from retransmitting their free-to-air content to its users.

ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have been fighting TV Catchup in the UK courts since 2010. The EU Court of Justice, which has the final say on copyright law in the bloc, delivered its ruling after the UK High Court asked it for guidance on the dispute.

“For years, nobody has known whether the unauthorised retransmission of live TV on the internet infringes copyright,” said Tony Ballard, head of broadcasting at law firm Harbottle & Lewis. “The court today . . . decided that it does.”

The High Court will now apply the European ruling to the facts of the case between TV Catchup and the broadcasters.

TV Catchup is one of the most popular live video streaming sites in the UK and claims to have more than 12m registered users. It offers more than 50 free-to-air channels, including BBC One, ITV, Channel 4, Five and Dave.

The TV Catchup service is free to use and funded by advertising, which appears at the beginning of live streams and elsewhere on the site.

While ads contained in the original broadcasts are retained unaltered, ITV and the other broadcasters see TV Catchup as a rival because it competes for advertising using their content.

As well as transmitting to televisions, the broadcasters all have their own websites and applications that stream programming via the internet. However, these services, such as ITV Player and 4 on Demand, sit in their own silos, meaning they are less attractive to some consumers than the all-in-one service offered by TV Catchup.

ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 welcomed the European judgment. “We now look forward to the UK court’s implementation of this judgment,” they said. “We reserve the right to pursue any site or service we believe to be infringing our copyright or using our content in an unlicensed, illegal capacity.”

TV Catchup said it would continue to fight the case in the High Court.

Bruce Pilley, TV Catchup’s director, said: “TV Catchup 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.”

Additional reporting by Robert Budden

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