In recent years, streaming media usage has grown dramatically, bringing with it a number of complex legal issues – ownership of copyright in content being one such issue. 

Under UK copyright law, the owner of copyright in a sound recording, film and/or broadcast (such as the producer or broadcaster) has the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit the communication of the work to the public by electronic transmission. 

In the high profile European Court of Justice case of ITV Broadcasting Ltd and others v TV Catchup, the main issue the ECJ dealt with was whether TV Catchup Limited’s (TVC) retransmission of UK television programmes by live internet streaming was also a “communication to the public” within the meaning of the legislation, and so an infringement of copyright. 

TVC operated a service from its website that enabled members of the public to watch live UK television on computers, smartphones and games consoles. TVC subscribers could select a stream of the programme being broadcast on the selected channel. TVC had argued that internet streaming was not a communication (as it was simply a technical way to ensure or improve reception of the original television broadcast within the catchment area of that broadcast). 

The ECJ confirmed that making the television programmes available by retransmitting them over the internet used a specific technical means which was different from the original communication, so the retransmission must be a “communication to the public” within the meaning of the legislation. Any retransmission of live television programmes over the internet without permission from broadcasters (or other original rights holders) was therefore an infringement of copyright. 

Any streaming of sound recordings, films or broadcasts on the internet should therefore not be carried out without first obtaining the necessary permissions and consents of the original rights holders (such as by way of a content distribution agreement).