(CN) – Selling a device that allows users to stream movies to their televisions for free likely constitutes copyright infringement, the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday.
Dutch citizen Jack Wullems sells a multimedia device online called the “Filmspeler,” which acts as a medium between an audiovisual data source and a TV. The player has open-source software that enables files to be played via a user-friendly menu, and contains add-ons that retrieve content from streaming services to be played on a user’s TV with a single click.
Some of the streaming sites have permission to stream the content, while others do so illegally. Wullems’ player makes it possible for users to watch free programming on their TVs regardless of copyright protection.
Netherlands-based copyright watchdog Stichting Brein took Wullems to court, seeking an order that he stop marketing the Filmspeler. The watchdog argued that by selling the device, he makes a “communication to the public” that violates Dutch and EU copyright laws.
The Dutch court asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on whether the sale of Wullems’ device and others like it amount to public communication under EU law.
In an 8-page ruling issued Wednesday, the Luxembourg-based high court found the Filmspeler is a communication to the public. The court noted its extensive case law that – in order to afford a high level of protection to copyright holders – interprets the concept broadly.
The court said it’s already held that websites that link to protected content amounts to a public communication of copyrighted work, and Wullems’ device is not different.
In fact, the court said, Wullems intentionally preinstalls software on the Filmspeler that is meant to find and access protected works. And because Wullems’ device has been a commercial success, the sheer number of people who own them makes his sale of the device a communication to the public under EU law.
As for Wullems argument that the Filmspeler only accesses protected work made available without permission by third parties, the court said he doesn’t qualify for an exemption – as an act of temporary reproduction – under the law.
In order to qualify for the temporary-reproduction exemption, the access to copyrighted material would have to be transient, unintentional and of no economic consequence to the copyright holder. The court noted the sole purpose of the device is to intentionally access copyrighted work – making Wullems money while depriving the rights holders of their economic benefit.
It’s up to the Dutch court to decide whether to order Wullems to stop selling the Filmspeler in light of the EU court’s findings, the high court said.