Two Supreme Court rulings in January on services that allow TV programs to be viewed by people overseas via the Internet highlight copyright problems related to TV broadcasts in the Internet age.

In the first case, NHK and five private TV networks based in Tokyo sued a Tokyo-based company that markets a service that allows a person living overseas to view TV programs in real time through a personal computer. The system consists of a TV antenna linked to transmitters that feed broadcasts via the Internet directly to a customer’s PC. The lower courts ruled that there were no copyright infringements because the service does not transmit TV programs to an unspecified number of people. They noted that the TV program transfer is done by an individual and that the program is available to that particular person. But the Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 18 that the company violated the broadcasters’ copyrights since it enables the transmission of programs by connecting the antenna to transmitters and the Internet.

In the second case, NHK and nine private TV broadcasters in Tokyo and Shizuoka Prefecture sued a company in Hamamatsu in the prefecture that leases digital recording devices to overseas customers. The customer sends a command via computer to the device, which is kept in Japan, to record a TV program. After the recording, the program is sent to the customer through the Internet.

The lower court took the stance that subscribers are exercising their right to record TV programs for private use as allowed by the Copyright Law. In its Jan. 20 ruling, the Supreme Court did not clearly say that the company violated copyrights but decided that since the company manages the recording machines, it should be regarded as copying TV programs. It ordered the Intellectual Property High Court to reexamine the case.

People have a strong desire to watch TV programs when they want, since technology enabling it is available. The government should create a legal environment in which a clash between people’s desires and broadcasters’ rights will not cause confusion.

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