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When TV, the internet and Australian copyright law collide

How does Australian copyright law impact how we view broadcast and streaming media?

It is a plain fact that technological developments move far faster than legislative ones, leaving the latter struggling to keep up. Until certain cases are tested  in the proving grounds of the judicial system, specific advancements exist in an intellectual property law limbo. While this is evident in new technology like 3D printing, many sectors are working to feel out the grey areas of IP legislation and see where the boundaries lie.

One such area of confusion is the intersection of television, live streaming over the internet and Australian copyright law. Is a live stream the same thing as a broadcast? That is the question that recently came before the NSW Supreme Court.

The changing medium of media consumption

Nearly 70 per cent of Australians want the ability to watch content on demand, regardless of device.

Just a few years ago, phones were for calls and texts, TVs were for movies and show, and computers were for web browsing. Things have become much more complicated, however, as the capabilities of each type of digital device have increased exponentially.

With the expanded capabilities of different devices, Australians are now able to access content in a number of ways. According to Deloitte's Media Consumer Survey 2015, 69 per cent of Australians want the ability to watch media on demand, regardless of what device it's on. While TVs remain the most used device for watching videos, a growing number of Australians are choosing to watch shows on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The Australian Multi-Screen Report from quarter four of 2015 showed that 84.5 per cent of video watching was done via TV compared to 4.3 per cent on smartphones, 8.3 per cent on computers and 3 per cent on tablets.

Battling over broadcast rights

The conflict between how consumers view media came to a head in a case brought before the NSW Supreme Court between WIN – the largest regional television broadcaster in Australia – and the nationwide network Nine. While a program supply agreement (PSA) between the two networks grants WIN the exclusive right to air content from Nine, Nine offers a service that allows customers to live stream shows in the WIN coverage area. 

WIN argued that the live stream is was a violation of the exclusive rights to air content granted in the PSA and filed for an injunction. However, Justice David Hammerschlag – the presiding judge – ruled that live streaming did not qualify as broadcasting under the terms of the PSA and denied the injunction.

With the growing number of people accessing media through nontraditional sources, this case could have massive implications for intellectual property law in Australia.