In recent years, faster broadband capacity has made streaming of video online far more accessible and led to the rise of Internet TV services. This has however raised several potential legal issues, such as the violation of copyright laws, but why have these allegations arisen?
The Rise of Internet TV Services:
The basic idea behind Internet TV is the ability for the user to choose a particular television program, or in certain cases films, from an archive of collected content. There are two main options for Internet TV usage – the first is streaming directly from the website or online source while the second involves downloading the content onto the user’s computer allowing them to watch it at any time without having to allow for buffering times. The huge flexibility that this offers is even further expanded by the compatibility of Internet TV services with a great range of devices; not just laptops and PCs but also tablets and smartphones.
The Legal Issue:
The reason that a new legal issue has arisen from this latest online media technology is based primarily around money. With users able to access vast quantities of content online without having to pay the full amount, or in some cases anything at all, the royalties available to the creators of the content decreases significantly. Naturally this generates much dispute about fair payment and raises the issue of copyright, one of the main purposes of which is to protect the earning rights of the creators of such media material.
A further problem is the damage that can be caused to the release of other formats of the media if the content is available for a reduced or zero cost on the Internet. For example, many television series are released in DVD box-set format some time after their initial broadcast as another source of profit. If users are not buying these DVDs as they are still able to access the content online, then the rights of the creators are infringed upon once again. This problem can be further exacerbated by the crossing of international borders, i.e. when a program or series is produced in one country but broadcast and made available on Internet TV in another – an example of this is HBO shows (USA) that are shown by Channel 4 and on 4OD (UK).
Defence of the Laws:
This is by no means a lost cause. Although the clash between Internet TV services and the legal framework for copyright infringement is ongoing with no clear resolution in sight, much is being done to improve the situation. For a start, technology is advancing rapidly, far more so than any degree of legal reform and so provisions are being put in place to cope with this progress and with foresight to try and deal with future developments that may pose similar problems. In some cases, the Internet TV services are obliged to suspend any user who infringes third party intellectual property rights, while in other situations responsibility lies with the Internet service provider itself.
The Alternative Viewpoint:
However, not all examples of Internet TV services are necessarily damaging to copyright legislation. BBC iPlayer is well managed so that viewers from outside the UK are not able to watch the content for free which is crucial because the BBC is part-funded by the TV license fees which are only paid by UK residents. This means that watching BBC programs via the online medium of iPlayer is merely an alternative to watching them on television and does not violate copyright laws in the same way as other Internet TV services.
Altogether, the idea of Internet TV services infringing upon copyright law is a very difficult one to fully understand and even more tricky to judge fairly. As with the legal grey area which constitutes much of intellectual property rights, it is very hard to control users’ access to creative content and measure how much should rightfully be paid to and by, whom. The Internet merely serves to exacerbate this problem with its limited accountability and transparency and with internationalization making online policing very difficult to enact. In conclusion, it is easy to see why Internet TV services are accused of violating copyright guidelines but much harder to envisage a possible long-term and realistic solution.
Sarah James writes regularly on copyright law for a range of internet media websites and blogs. He also researches and writes on internet providers and consumer deals in this area. For more information on Internet providers visit the Broadband Expert website.