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Copyright rules do not provide freedom to retransmit TV programmes online, says UK government

UK copyright laws do not provide online content providers with freedom to retransmit TV programmes shown by UK public service broadcasters (PSBs) to fixed-line internet users who could otherwise watch the programmes on TV, the UK government has said.10 Apr 2015

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that it is its view that rules contained under section 73 (s73) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) do not "apply to content transmitted over the internet".

The provisions were drawn up to "support the development of analogue cable infrastructure in the 1980s and 1990s" and are now "out-dated", it said.

DCMS said that it intends to repeal s73 "at the earliest opportunity" but has opened a consultation on what the "potential implications" of that move would be as part of wider plans to remove existing regulations relating to public service broadcasting.

"One area where the policy rationale has clearly expired is section 73 (CDPA 1988), which provides that in certain circumstances the retransmission on cable of certain broadcasts is not an infringement of the copyright in the broadcast itself," the DCMS consultation paper said. "Its purpose was to support the development of analogue cable infrastructure in the 1980s and 1990s. Much has changed now with the development of multi-channel and digital TV on satellite, terrestrial and increasingly on IP platforms and the massive increase in capacity supported by the cable networks."

"The government believes the case for having differential arrangements for one platform is no longer relevant, and if not dealt with could affect the future prospects for the commercial PSBs.  Indeed, new online providers have sought to rely on the provisions of s73 to permit the streaming of PSB content over the internet without seeking permission (or paying any fees to) either to the broadcast owners or the underlying content copyright owners... The government’s view is that section 73 does not apply to content transmitted over the internet."

Removing s73 from the statute book could "result in a flow of payments from cable to PSBs" and would "create freer negotiations between PSBs and cable providers on the terms of carriage".

The Court of Appeal in London recently said it would ask the EU's highest court to determine whether EU copyright rules allow the UK to have copyright laws that enable PSBs' TV programmes to be retransmitted over the internet by third party content providers without rights holders' permission. The underlying case that the Court of Appeal is considering involves a dispute between a number of UK broadcasters and online streaming service provider TVCatchup.