Changes to copyright law may affect your ability to show free-to-air TV channels in public spaces

Recent changes to copyright law may mean that in future additional licences will need to be obtained by any public, private or third sector organisation that shows free-to-air TV broadcasts in public spaces.


Free-to air TV broadcasts are commonly shown in company reception areas, staff common rooms, communal areas in care homes, as well as in hospital, GP and dental practice waiting rooms (although the question of whether each of those scenarios amounts to a communication to the "public" and is therefore caught by the change is not a straightforward question and will depend on the facts).

The reason why additional licences may in future be required is because s.72 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (the Act) has just been amended to remove the right for organisations (which do not charge for admission to their premises) to show any "film" contained within a TV broadcast without the permission of the copyright holder. "Film" carries a very wide meaning in the Act - it covers all audio-visual recordings, not just films made to be shown in cinemas – and so it includes recordings of sporting events, the news, documentaries, and other TV shows.

Although the changes were made to close a loophole in the law which previously allowed pubs to show live transmissions of football matches received in the UK using foreign satellite TV boxes without infringing copyright, the knock on effect is that the rights holders of audio-visual content that forms part of a free-to-air broadcast may, in future, require organisations to obtain a separate licence to show those programmes in public spaces. For the time being though, the only additional licences required are the licences from PPL and PRS to cover any music content included in the free-to-air broadcast (although certain organisations remain exempt from the need to obtain those licences). The UK Intellectual Property Office (the IPO) has said that it is not aware of any changes to the way broadcast "films" are licensed as a result of this change.

It will be interesting to see how rights holders approach this change – some may see it as an opportunity to generate further income from the content they own. Organisations that currently (or in future intend to) show free-to-air TV broadcasts in public spaces including reception, waiting and communal areas will need to keep a close eye on developments.

Click here for further information from the IPO about the changes.

If you have any questions about this change or would like to discuss these issues in more detail please contact Wesley O'Brien or Jonathan Moore.

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