(CN) - Streaming television programs online implicates copyright infringement and can be prohibited, the Court of Justice for the European Union ruled Thursday.
The ruling stems from questions brought by the British high court concerning TVCatchup Ltd.'s practice of live-streaming free-to-air television broadcasts in the United Kingdom.
Several U.K. television networks - including ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - balked at the company's distribution of their programs in real time and sued for copyright infringement, claiming that both national and EU law prohibit the "communication to the public."
Britain's high court asked the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice if TVC's online streaming constitutes a public communication when it broadcasts to people who hold TV licenses and could therefore view programs on their television sets if they chose to do so.
The EU high court found Thursday that any retransmission made by an organization other than the original broadcaster constitutes a communication to the public under European law. Furthermore, EU law requires that such retransmissions "must, as a rule, be individually authorized by the author of the work in question," according to the ruling.
TVCatchup failed to show its businesses aimed solely to improve the quality of reception, the court found.
"Intervention by TVC consists in a transmission of the protected works at issue which is different from that of the broadcasting organization concerned," the justices wrote, abbreviating the company's name. "TVC's intervention is in no way intended to maintain or improve the quality of the transmission by that other broadcasting organization. In those circumstances, that intervention cannot be considered to be a mere technical means."
The court also shot down claims that a "new public" would require rebroadcasting permission, but that TVC viewers are licensed to watch the networks' televised broadcasts on their own TV sets.
"The main proceedings in the present case concern the transmission of works included in a terrestrial broadcast and the making available of those works over the internet," the court wrote. "Each of those two transmissions must be authorized individually and separately by the authors concerned given that each is made under specific technical conditions, using a different means of transmission for the protected works, and each is intended for a public."
As in any referral for a preliminary ruling, the Court of Justice handed the case back to the originating court for disposition. Its ruling is nevertheless binding on that court.
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