Is cable retransmission within the reception area of the original broadcast copyright free? In a ruling on March 16 2017 the Court of Justice of the EU seems to answer this question in the affirmative. If this is indeed the case, it constitutes a new ‘game changer’. It implies that there would no longer be a need to pay for the cable retransmission of national television programmes from for example the Dutch national public broadcaster NPO and the commercial broadcasters RTL and SBS.
According to the Court of Justice of the EU, there is no copyright-relevant ‘communication to the public’ in the case of ‘simultaneous, full and unaltered transmission of programmes broadcast by the national broadcasting corporation, by means of cables on national territory […] provided that it is merely a technical means of communication and was taken into account by the author of the work when the latter authorised the original communication’. In this case, according to the Court, there is no ‘new public’, and therefore no copyright-relevant communication which requires separate permission from the rightholders.
In the early 1980s, the Dutch Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) ruled that in the case of cable retransmission within the reception area, there is a ‘communication to the public’. The Dutch Supreme Court decided that a ‘new public’ was not required; the only thing that mattered was if there was another ‘organization’ involved, for example the operator of a central antenna installation. Later, the copyright status of cable retransmission was codified in a separate EU Directive.
In recent years the Court of Justice has introduced the ‘new public’ criterion again, but reframed the criterion and explained that in most cases there is a ‘new public’. In cases of cable retransmission or broadcastsin hotels, cafes, spas and rehabilitation centres, there is always a ‘new public’ that was ’not taken into account by the author of the work when the latter authorised the original communication’.
Internet retransmission of a TV signal within the reception area of the original broadcast was, according to the Court, relevant to copyright anyway because this was a different transmission technology. Whether or not a new public is reached would be irrelevant here.
But now suddenly the Court of Justice of the EU has found that people in Austria who just watch the public service channel via cable, have already been taken into account in the satellite and terrestrial broadcast, and therefore no permission or payment is required for this type of transmission. This is an understandable argument in itself, but it is certainly contrary to what has been assumed in the legislation and case law over the past twenty to thirty years. The ‘other technique’ of cable retransmission is apparently irrelevant.
The European Court of Justice decided in this case without the opinion of the Advocate-General in a small chamber, so maybe it is a slip. If not, this could be a real game changer in the area of audio-visual copyright.
CJEU 16 March 2017, ECLI:EU:C:2017:218, (AKM/Zürs.net)
CJEU 7 March 2013, ECLI:EU:C:2013:147, (ITV/TVCatchup)
HR 30 October 1981, NJ 1982, 435 (CAI Amstelveen I)
HR 25 May 1984, NJ 1984, 697 (CAI Amstelveen II)