Confusion Over Online TV Copyright Law in the EU

The European Commission Thursday closed an infringement case against Austria after the country agreed to implement E.U. rules on TV and video-on-demand, but confusion about broadcast-related copyright rules is likely to continue.

A new report released this week by the Council of Europe's European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO), for example, shows that disparity in how countries implement copyright law is leaving broadcasters and viewers confused.

The Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive aims to reduce regulation and create "a level playing field for audiovisual media services across frontiers while maintaining high consumer protection standards." However, national authorities are free to implement additional laws, leading to inconsistencies from country to country that the EAO says should be stamped out.

The directive supposedly removes outdated restrictions on digital TV over the Internet, video-on-demand and mobile TV and created a single market for all audiovisual media services, according to the European Commission. But this is not what is revealed in the EAO report. Furthermore, as of June, 12 member states including Austria had still not implemented the directive.

The AVMS directive acknowledges the difference between real-time and on-demand services, but this has created a two-tier system, leading to confusion regarding the legality of personal video recording (PVR) services. These technologies record specific TV shows for later downloading and ad-skipping services.

The EAO report highlights recent court cases the challenge the providers of such services.

Zattoo.de, which retransmits German television, was successfully taken to court by Warner Bros. and Universal film studios, which alleged breach of German copyright law for having re-transmitted broadcasts of feature films without having the right to do so.

Elsewhere, French broadcaster M6 sued Wizzgo, a PVR provider. The court ruled that a program recorded by means of PVR did not fall under the private copy exception. Wizzgo had to pay damages and cease offering its PVR service.

Indexing services that provide links to websites offering audiovisual content could also be in copyright breach, according to the report. All of this could be bad news for expatriate citizens who want to access TV from their home country, as successful court cases against online service providers will mean less choice.

The EAO report will be part of the debate on reforming copyright protection for broadcasters at the next meeting of a Council of Europe steering group in November.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon