January 17, 2003 3:11 PM PST

Canada blocks free Net TV

Canadian regulators ruled Friday that it is illegal to put broadcast TV signals onto the Internet without permission, dashing the hopes of entrepreneurs hoping to create new Net TV businesses.

The long-awaited decision helped close what some had seen as a loophole in international copyright law, potentially allowing American and Canadian TV signals to be streamed online without the TV stations' or copyright holders' permission. However, regulators said they were wary of undermining traditional producers and distributors of TV content by allowing it to be distributed on the Net without regional restrictions.

"At present, there is no completely workable method of ensuring that Internet retransmissions are geographically contained," the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission wrote in its decision. "The likelihood that a program retransmitted over the Internet would become available worldwide could significantly reduce the opportunities" for copyright owners.

The commission's decision comes largely in response to a string of start-ups that had hoped to take advantage of Canadian law to create businesses streaming live television on the Web. The prospect horrified programmers and TV producers and prompted one high-profile lawsuit against an early start-up.

The decision had been closely watched by the industry. However, the urgency of the issue dissipated somewhat late last year, when Canadian legislators independently blocked the loophole that would have allowed Internet retransmission of TV programming without the broadcasters' permission.

Start-up IcraveTV.com was the first of the ambitious Net TV companies to burst onto the scene in late 1999, offering live streams of American and Canadian television, including popular shows such as "Friends," "The Simpsons," and professional sports events. The company noted that only Canadian viewers were authorized, but it allowed viewers anywhere in the world to watch the shows.

The company was sued not too many months later by a coalition of programmers, professional sports leagues, and broadcasters. A court ordered the company to pull the plug temporarily on its service, and IcraveTV went out of business shortly afterward.

Another company, JumpTV sought permission for a similar service, but broadcasters denied the request. That start-up then asked Canadian regulators to rule on whether Net services needed permission.

JumpTV could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The United States National Association of Broadcasters, which assisted in the IcraveTV case and filed comments with the Canadian Commission, welcomed the decision.

"We regard this decision as a major victory for consumers in the protection of free, over-the-air television signals and programming," the group said in a statement.

 

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