In Online TV Re-Streaming, UK’s TVCatchup Dealt A Legal Blow

A High Court judge has dismissed an application by UK TV re-streaming site TVCatchup to throw out a copyright case brought against it by Britain’s main broadcasters, saying that “the claim does have a real prospect of success“.

The website started re-streaming live TV channels on the web two years ago, after it earlier shut a kind of web-based PVR it operated. ITV (LSE: ITV), Channel 4 and Five this June filed jointly against it. Mr Justice Kitchin’s summary judgement makes clear the tension lines between both sides…

— Owners of copyrights in “broadcasts” have exclusive rights to copy and distribute that material.

— TVCatchup argued that its re-streams are not “broadcasts” since they are one-to-one, not one-to-many.

— The channels concede, on this point, that TVCatchup’s streams themselves don’t constitute “broadcasting”.

— But, though the judge says channels have exclusive transmission rights via the “two specific ways” of broadcast and on-demand electronic transmission, he adds: “I do not read (this) definition … as being limited to these forms of communication.”

The fact TVCatchup not been able to argue itself in to a legal loophole left the judge to say: “I am satisfied that the claim does have a real prospect of success. Accordingly, TVCatchup’s application must be dismissed.” The full case is due to be held in the New Year.

“Having dispensed with that technicality and having exposed the weakness of the broadcasters’ arguments, it is very much ‘game on’ for TVC and the future of live internet streaming of TV,” says TVCatchup moderator on the company forum.

TVCatchup streams about 50 live channels; it’s not clear if it has any directly-mandated broadcaster deals. It inserts its own sold ads before channels begin streaming. It’s one of several such services…

— Operating a similar model, Switzerland’s Zattoo ended its UK service this year under the same kind of pressure from the same set of broadcasters and also from the BBC. It had claimed a different loophole than TVCatchup – that the copyright act allows “cable” services to retransmit public service channels.

— New site FilmOn has been re-streaming sets of channels on both sides of the Atlantic but – after a case brought by Fox, CBS (NYSE: CBS), ABC (NYSE: DIS) and NBC (NYSE: GE) – was last week slapped with a temporary restraining order, ordering it not to re-stream their content. The site remains operating in the UK, where it re-streams a similar but smaller bouquet of channels to TVCatchup.

— U.S. broadcasters have also brought a case against ivi TV, which argues that it is protected because it has paying customers.