ITV Can Block Internet Streaming by TVCatchup, EU Court Says

ITV Plc, owner of the U.K.’s most-watched commercial TV station, won the backing of the European Union’s top court to block online streaming company TVCatchup retransmitting its programs, in a case broadcasters said may pave the way for more lawsuits.

Television broadcasters have the final say when their work is retransmitted by another company, the EU Court of Justice today ruled today. Companies such as TVCatchup “can’t escape the authorization of the copyright holders.”

A ruling against TVCatchup was inevitable and it “would have been a real shock had it gone the other way,” Rebecca Swindells, a lawyer at Field Fisher Waterhouse, said in a phone interview. “Damages could be quite substantial” after today’s decision against companies such as TVCatchup.

The case, which was triggered by a dispute pending at a London court, establishes the scope of broadcasters’ rights under EU copyright rules and whether these include the right to prohibit broadcasts by a service such as TVCatchup. The English tribunal sought the EU court’s advice in 2011 and will be bound to give a ruling in the case in line with today’s decision.

The ruling “makes it clear that, subject to some limited defenses, broadcasters and content producers should be able to prevent unauthorized streaming of free to air channels,” ITV and commercial stations Channel 4 and Channel 5 said in a joint-statement.

‘Unlicensed, Illegal’

They said they “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.”

TVCatchup had rejected claims that live streams of the companies’ free-to-air broadcasts was a “communication to the public” of copyrighted works and violated EU law. TVCatchup argued that it is only providing a technical means for people in the U.K. to see streamed programs that they are legally entitled to watch based on their U.K. TV license.

TVCatchup “is here to stay,” Bruce Pilley, a director of the London-based company, said in a statement on its website. “Whatever the outcome of the ECJ, TVCatchup has already emerged as the clear victor from years of legal wrangling, and has established itself as the de facto online broadcast platform for Web, tablet, mobile and numerous other applications.”

The case is: C-607/11, ITV Broadcasting Limited e.a. v. TVCatchup Limited.

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