The Supreme Court said Wednesday television owners are legally required to sign up with public broadcaster NHK and pay a subscription fee, dismissing a claim that the system violates freedom of contract rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The ruling, the first of its kind by the top court, was handed down in a lawsuit filed by NHK against a Tokyo man who refused to respond to NHK's request to sign a contract in September 2011. He owned a television set from March 2006.

The ruling is expected to bring great reassurance to NHK, also known as Japan Broadcasting Corp., which has relied on the fees as its main source of income and has been struggling with unpaid bills.