In his decision, Judge Fred Myers wrote, “VMedia has infringed Bell’s rights under the Copyright Act by proceeding without Bell’s consent to simultaneously communicating CTV and CTV2 over-the-air television copyrighted works through VMedia’s new service that is delivered and accessed over the internet.”
“Without a doubt, we are surprised and disappointed by the decision,” said VMedia’s George Burger.
“This is acknowledged to be not a clear area of the law. VMedia believed that it had a legitimate interpretation of the law and sought the court’s direction to validate that interpretation. The court decided otherwise.”
At issue was VMedia’s new service, which offered a so-called “skinny basic” cable package through a Roku app.
Signing up for the package meant anyone with a Roku player and their own internet subscription could have access to about 20 live television channels, including CTV, CBC, Global, as well as U.S. networks ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS.
Bell contended VMedia was violating the Copyright Act by retransmitting its signals over the internet.
In court VMedia argued that — like cable and satellite companies — it is a licensed Broadcasting Distribution Undertaking (BDU), which are generally allowed to retransmit over-the-air TV signals at no cost.
“We’ve said all along that VMedia was redistributing CTV and CTV Two signals outside of its broadcast distribution business and without our agreement, a clear violation of our copyright.” Bell said in a statement.
“The court agreed, confirming that internet distributors don’t get to use copyrighted content for free.”
In fact, Bell and other cable and satellite companies argued hard — and successfully — at the Supreme court against a system that could have seen cable companies required to pay TV stations for their signals.
In his decision, Judge Myers wrote he ruled only on the existing law.
“If technology has overcome the existing laws and policies,” Myers wrote, “it is open to interested parties to put the issues before the CRTC to try to revise the policies and definitions discussed below. This decision says what the law is. It is for others to determine what the applicable law ought to be.”
Myers also awarded Bell $ 150,000 in costs.
“Frankly, the award of the costs feels somewhat punitive,” said VMedia’s Burger.
“Because there was ample opportunity here for the court to take different points of view on this issue. And the one that was taken was the one that is most disadvantageous to the people who are seeking to innovate. And that is very problematic.”
Bell, though, disagreed.