The Saitama District Court ruled Friday that an owner of a cellphone equipped with the One Seg mobile television function has no obligation to sign a subscription fee contract with public broadcaster NHK.
The latest case could set a precedent that would also affect many in the public who own handsets with TV functions.
Friday’s ruling was seen as a test case on whether TV subscription fees can be justified for handsets with the One Seg feature.
One Seg refers to one of the 13 frequencies, or “segments,” allocated to terrestrial digital broadcasting reserved for mobile phones. Prior to this case, NHK had won every lawsuit requesting noncompliant viewers cover their unpaid fees.
NHK said in its own report Friday that it plans to appeal the case to the high court.
Under the Broadcast Law, a person who has installed equipment capable of receiving NHK broadcasts is obliged to sign a subscription contract with the broadcaster regardless of whether its programs are watched.
The district court said that just owning such a handset does not constitute the installation of TV equipment and therefore does not fall under the Broadcast Law.
Masanobu Ohashi, a 40-year-old municipal assembly member from Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, had filed the lawsuit with the court.
In the course of the trial, Ohashi claimed he had no obligation to sign a contract with the broadcaster as he had no TV at home and just owned a cellphone with One Seg capability, but had never watched NHK programs.
The broadcaster, however, argued that even if he did not view its programs, he had to sign a contract given that he was using a phone with a TV function.
According to the complaint, Ohashi had called NHK in August 2015 to confirm there was no need for him to sign a contract, but the broadcaster told him that he was obligated to do so.
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