By Cassandra Williams, post graduate law student at the College of Law
As anyone who has kept up with the news knows, downloading illegal content is allegedly killing off the music and film industries. That said, downloading may just be the tip of the iceberg and streaming could be the real danger lurking beneath to music, film and television companies. Why risk the possibility of huge fines, being cut off from the internet and court action when all content a user needs can be easily accessed via streaming?
Youtube may have started the revolution in terms of streaming content, but the mantle has been picked up by sites that actually stream entire television series and films as well as the latest singles and back catalogue of most artists. Of course most of these sites streaming the content are breaking the law in the same way that a TV channel that broadcasts a programme without the correct clearances would be liable for copyright infringement. However the viewers of the TV channel at home who happened to tune into the channel will not be held liable for watching an illegal stream. Why, well as an ‘end user’ the consumer is not actually infringing copyright by watching or listening too illegally streamed content – much like listeners of the Pirate radio stations of the 60’s – it is the content provider that risks prosecution.
According to ComScore.com, one of the top companies to measure the ‘digital world’, in 2007 there were over 8.3 billion videos streamed online. In May 2007 nearly 75 percent of the internet users in the United States of America looked at streams – and spent an average of 158 minutes during the month viewing streaming video – with Google Video ranked at the top.
With the cease and deist protocols in action, sites that illegally post infringing material (especially user generated content) will remove the link once they have been informed that they do not have permission. However one link disappears ten more appear from different providers. This model of viewing makes it possible for the end user to watch newly released series such as HBO new vampire series ‘True Blood’ before the intended UK release. This has the potential to dramatically reduce the secondary sales that many Producers rely upon as a life line.
The worry is that unlike Pirate radio stations, the new streaming sites will not be so easily tackled. The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act 1967 dealt with the physical world, but in the internet age there are just so many ways to acquire material it is often difficult for content owners to begin to protect their content – and it seems as long as streaming sites remove offending material (once informed of it’s legality) they will claim protection under ‘safe harbour’ and similar laws – and it is hard to see how, legally, these sites can be effectively stopped.
Average American Video Streamer Watched More than 2.5 Hours of Video Online. July 17, 2007. ComScore.com. 11 Jan. 2008